Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Decision Announced

By Terrance Turner

No officers have been directly charged in the death of Breonna Taylor.

In case you’ve been under a rock: On March 13, emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. They had fallen asleep after watching the movie “Freedom Writers”, according to USA Today. The Louisville Metro Police began banging on her door around 12:40 am. They had a no-knock warrant, which allows them to enter a home without warning. The police were carrying out a drug investigation for a suspect that had already been arrested. (Jamarcus Glover, who was also named on the search warrant for Taylor’s apartment, was arrested the same night, 10 miles away, at a house on Elliott Avenue in the Russell neighborhood, per USA Today.)

So officers broke into Taylor’s home — the wrong house — wearing plain clothes, allegedly without identifying themselves, to arrest a suspected drug dealer who had already been arrested. (There were no drugs in Taylor’s apartment, by the way.) The two called out, asking who it was, but got no response, Walker said in a police interview. The officers used a battering ram to break into the apartment, according to the New York Times.

Kenneth Walker, believing his home was being burglarized, asserted his 2nd Amendment rights. He grabbed his gun and began firing at what he thought were intruders. The police responded with a torrent of gunfire. The officers — Brett Hankison, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove — fired 20 bullets into the apartment, hitting Taylor five times.

Dispatch logs obtained by USA Today show that Taylor laid where she fell in her hallway for more than 20 minutes after she was fatally shot at approximately 12:43 a.m. She received no medical attention; officers were too busy trying to put a tourniquet on Mattingly’s thigh after he was shot. An ambulance had left Taylor’s street an hour before the raid—counter to standard police practice—meaning she didn’t get help for more than 20 minutes after the shooting, per the Daily Beast.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family reveals that she lived for another “five to six minutes” while officers ignored her injuries. Breonna Taylor died from those injuries. She was 26. Her death certificate, reviewed by the New York Times, showed she had been struck by five bullets.

None of those officers have been directly charged in her death.

Today, it was announced that of the three officers, only Brent Hankison was charged. He was charged, however, with wanton endangerment — with endangering the other people in the apartment complex (officers’ bullets also hit a neighboring unit, per the Times.) But no one — NOT ONE OFFICER — was directly charged in her death. Mr. Hankison was the only officer fired; the other two officers were placed on administrative duty. And none of them will be held directly liable for her death.

The Louisville justice system had the audacity to charge Kenneth Walker for attempted murder. (Those charges were eventually dropped.) But not one of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor will be held responsible for her death. In a press conference held today, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the three officers fired a total of 32 shots. Rounds fired by Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove struck Ms. Taylor, he said. But that apparently still wasn’t enough to justify charging the officers with manslaughter or murder.

“According to Kentucky law, the use of force by [Officers Jonathan] Mattingly and [Myles] Cosgrove was justified to protect themselves,” Cameron said. “This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Miss Breonna Taylor’s death.” He added: “But my heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor. And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me, would find it very hard,” he added, choking up. He was emotional discussing the case, according to the AP.

Black writer and author Michael Arceneaux was unconvinced by Cameron’s display:

Other voices were equally outraged. LA Charger Justin Jackson had this to say:

Activist Brittany Packyetti wrote:

New York Times writer Jenna Wortham was simple and blunt:

The family of Breonna Taylor was dismayed by the decision. “How ironic and typical that the only charges brought in this case were for shots fired into the apartment of a white neighbor, while no charges were brought for the shots fired into the Black neighbor’s apartment or into Breonna’s residence,” they wrote. The Taylor family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, denounced the decision as “outrageous and offensive,” and protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace!” began marching through the streets. Some sat quietly and wept, according to the Associated Press. Protests continue in Louisville as of this very moment.

This is a developing situation; please check back for updates.

NBA Players Launch Historic Boycott for Jacob Blake

By Terrance Turner

The shooting of unarmed Black man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday has led to a historic move. In response to the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks — who play just 40 miles north of Kenosha — decided to sit out tonight’s Game 5. The Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers all boycotted their scheduled games tonight. There will be no NBA playoff basketball tonight.

Moreover, the boycott may stretch beyond tonight. ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted earlier today: “Emotions are raw, players were already worn out of bubble environment prior to the Jacob Blake shooting and sources say discussions within teams [involve] postponing tomorrow’s three games too — and beyond. ‘The season is in jeopardy,’ one vet player here told ESPN.”

Tonight, players met in the NBA bubble to discuss the situation. NBA Insider Shams Charania said tonight that the Lakers and Clippers voted to end the NBA season. Lakers star LeBron James reportedly walked out of the meeting, joined by players from both L.A. teams. According to NBA writer Vince Goodwill, his frustration stemmed in part from the fact that the Bucks initiated the boycott without letting others know. Further action will be taken tomorrow, at the Board of Governors meeting.

Historic Wave of Black Actors Score Emmy Nominations

Photo via Collider.

By Terrance Turner

The Primetime Emmy Award nominations were announced today. According to Variety, 35 of the 102 acting nominees are Black — the most ever. Black actors make up 34.3% of the nominees, which is substantially higher than last year’s 19.8%. (In 2018, the percentage was 27.7%, which was a record at the time.) Frank Scherma, CEO of the Television Academy, pointed to the racial unrest sweeping America as a reason for the noticeable change in representation. “2020 isn’t just about the global health crisis. This year, we are also bearing witness to one of the greatest fights for social justice in history, and it is our duty to use this medium for change,” he said today.

Billy Porter is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his work on “Pose”. Last year, Porter became the first openly gay black actor to win that award. This year, he’s nominated again, amidst a crowded field that includes actor Sterling K. Brown (for “This is Us”). Brown won in 2017, and in his acceptance speech he honored Andre Braugher — the last black actor to win that award (in 1998). Ironically, both are competing in the same category this year.

Braugher is nominated this year for best supporting comedy actor for his role as Detective Pendleton on the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. Brown is also nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy, for his portrayal of Reggie in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. (Deadline reported Brown as saying that he would be happy to return as Reggie next season.)

Singer and actress Zendaya scored a best drama actress nomination for her performance as a teenager recovering from drug addiction in the HBO series “Euphoria”. She, too, is in a crowded field that includes Jennifer Aniston, Laura Linney, and Sandra Oh. (Zendaya’s father is African-American; her mother has Irish, German, English and Scottish ancestry.)

Don Cheadle scored an Emmy nod for best actor in a comedy for the Wall Street-themed Showtime series “Black Monday”. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are nominated for best comedy actor and actress, respectively, for “Black-ish”. Ross is nominated alongside actress and writer Issa Rae, nominated for her work on “Insecure”. Her co-star Yvonne Orji, who plays Issa’s (ex?)-best friend Molly, is also nominated for best supporting comedy actress.

It was the supporting and limited/guest actor categories, in fact, where black actors shined. Black and Italian actor Giancarlo Esposito scored three nominations, including best guest actor in a drama for “The Mandalorian”. He is also nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — for playing the kingpin Gus Fring. (He played the role in AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and its legendary predecessor “Breaking Bad”.)

In the category of best actress in a limited series, three Black actresses are nominated: Regina King, (“Watchmen”), Octavia Spencer, (“Self Made”) and Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere“). Washington is cast opposite Reese Witherspoon in “Little Fires”, based on the novel by Celeste Ng. The Hulu series depicts two women grappling with class differences in Cleveland. Spencer portrays legendary Black businesswoman Madame C.J. Walker in “Self Made”. Walker built an empire of hair and beauty products to become the first self-made female millionaire. She plays a detective fighting white supremacy on “Watchmen”. King reacted to the news on Twitter:

“Watchmen” scored a stunning 26 nominations, leading the pack among all other series. (Oscar winner Lou Gossett, Jr. is up for best supporting actor in a limited series.) The HBO series is based on a graphic novel. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the show depicts a town where white supremacists have threatened the police — who must wear masks to protect themselves.

But Watchmen wasn’t the only HBO show to make an impression. In fact, “Insecure” received eight nominations, including its first-ever nod for best comedy series. The half-hour series will compete with seven other nominees, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Good Place. Remarkably, Insecure was also nominated twice for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour). Ava Berkosky is nominated for “Lowkey Lost”; Kira Kelly is nominated for her work on “Lowkey Happy”, which Berkovsky directed.

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Lawrence and Issa on an art exhibit in “Lowkey Happy”, which scored an Emmy nomination for cinematography. (Photo via Twitter @InsecureHBO.)

The episode “Lowkey Happy” was written by “Insecure” actress Natasha Rothwell. (You can read my rapturous review of that episode — and of Kelly’s luminous cinematography — here.)

In an interesting twist, the former President and First Lady were also in the running for awards this season. According to The Hill, President Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company earned seven Emmy nominations this year with two acclaimed documentaries. “American Factory” and “Becoming” were both were recognized for directing.

“American Factory,” which follows the story of a factory in Ohio after it’s reopened by a Chinese billionaire, was nominated for three categories: outstanding picture editing for a nonfiction program, outstanding cinematography for a nonfiction program and outstanding directing for a documentary/nonfiction program. “Becoming”, which follows Mrs. Obama on a book tour involving her memoir, is a contender for best documentary.

Remembering Rep. John Lewis

Rep. John Lewis in the 1960s and in 2020. (Photo courtesy of New York magazine.)

By Terrance Turner

Rep. John Lewis — author, congressman, civil rights icon — died yesterday after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

“It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis,” Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones said in a written statement early Saturday. “He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.” 

Part I

Born on Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Alabama, John Robert Lewis was the son of sharecroppers. He was the third of 10 children born to Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. He lived on the family farm, which the Lewis family bought from the white man who owned it. The New York Times states that young John shared in the work picking cotton (!), peanuts, and corn. There was no plumbing, running water, or even toilet paper. (There was, however, an old Sears catalog in the outhouse.)

Young John Lewis cared for the chickens on the farm: feeding them, reading to them, even preaching to them from the Bible. His family called him “Preacher”, which is what Lewis had wanted to be. In fact, it was a preacher who would inspire him to confront the segregation that permeated life in the Jim Crow South.

As a boy, Lewis saw signs of segregation everywhere. “Whites Only” signs were on water fountains, restaurants, bus stations, and even movie theatres. Black children were escorted to the balcony, while white children were seated on the lower level. “I would come home and ask my mother my father , my grandparents, my great-grandparents: ‘Why?’ They would say: ‘Accept what is; don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,'” Lewis recalled in 2013. “But one day, in 1955, at the age of 15 — in 10th grade — I heard about Rosa Parks. I heard the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio.”

Hearing King preaching on the radio — after the landmark ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, no less — changed everything. To young John, it felt like King “was speaking directly to me,” Lewis told the audience at the 2013 American Library Association annual conference. “I felt like he was saying: ‘John Lewis, you can do it. You can make a difference in the struggle to defend the dignity of all mankind.'”

Inspired by King’s words, a teenage John Lewis took a stand. “In 1956, at the age of 16 — with some of my brothers, sister, and my first cousin — we went down to the public library in the little town of Troy, Alabama,” he remembered. The goal was “to try to get library cards, to try to check out some books. And we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for coloreds.” Lewis didn’t go back to that library in Pike County until July 5, 1998, for a book signing of his memoir Walking with the Wind. Hundreds of black and white citizens showed up, he recalled. “And at the end of the event, they gave me my library card.”

Lewis graduated high school and began theological studies at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, per the Times. While there he met several civil rights activists, including the Rev. James M. Lawson. Rev. Lawson mentored Lewis and taught him about nonviolent resistance. He taught him about Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and their principles.

While at the Seminary in Nashville, Lewis applied to the all-white Troy State University in his hometown. Lewis was testing the mettle of Brown v. Board, which had desegregated public schools nationwide. But he never heard back. Lewis sent a letter to King (by then a minister in nearby Montgomery, Alabama) for help. King sent him a round-trip bus ticket, and in 1958 an 18-year-old Lewis went to meet King. When they met, King dubbed Lewis “the boy from Troy” — a moniker that would stick with John Lewis all his life.

By 1959, Lewis was participating in workshops about nonviolent demonstrating. In October, he and other young students formed the Nashville Student Movement. On Feb. 1, 1960, four black men sat at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked to be served. Twelve days later, on Feb. 13, Lewis and a number of fellow NSM members did the same. They seated themselves at lunch counters at K-Mart and Woolworths, among other places. The protests would last until early May.

Journalist David Halberstam, then a reporter for The Nashville Tennessean, later described the scene: “The protests had been conducted with exceptional dignity, and gradually one image had come to prevail — that of elegant, courteous young Black people, holding to their Gandhian principles, seeking the most elemental of rights, while being assaulted by young white hoodlums who beat them up and on occasion extinguished cigarettes on their bodies.”

In May 1960, after three months and after repeated, well-publicized sit-ins, the city’s political and business communities gave in to the pressure. Nashville became the first major Southern city to begin desegregating public facilities. By that point, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had formed. Activist Ella Baker organized the meeting that led to the formation, and Lewis was one of SNCC’s founding members. But John Lewis’s work was far from over.

Part II

In 1961, Lewis received his B.A. from American Baptist. That same year, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed the “Freedom Rides,” aimed at desegregating interstate busing. Thirteen participants (seven whites, six blacks) rode on buses from Washington, D.C. to Jackson, Mississippi, according to the King Institute. The ride was turbulent. Lewis was beaten in South Carolina, but the worst of the abuse came in his home state. In Anniston, Alabama, members of the Ku Klux Klan were given carte blanche by local authorities to do whatever they pleased to the protesters. So they slashed the tires and firebombed the bus.

A Freedom Rider bus went up in flames in May 1961 when a fire bomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Ala. The Freedom Riders escaped without serious injury. (AP file)
This bus on which the Freedom Riders rode was set ablaze in May 1961 in Anniston, Alabama. (Photo via the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

In Anniston, Lewis and the Freedom Riders were trapped inside the burning bus by Klansmen who barred the door. They finally emerged, only to beaten by an angry mob. In Birmingham, Lewis and other passengers were attacked at a bus terminal — this time with baseball bats, iron pipes and bicycle chains. In Montgomery, Lewis was hit over the head with a wooden crate. That knocked him unconscious.

Nevertheless, he persisted. “If there was anything I learned on that long, bloody bus trip of 1961,” he wrote in his memoir, “it was this — that we were in for a long, bloody fight here in the American South. And I intended to stay in the middle of it.” It would indeed be a long and bloody battle, as evidenced by the 1961 photograph shown below.

John Lewis and fellow Freedom Rider James Zwerg collect themselves after surviving a bloody attack at a bus station in Montgomery, Ala. in 1961.
John Lewis and fellow Freedom Rider James Zwerg collect themselves after a bloody attack at a bus station in Montgomery, Ala. in 1961. (Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo)

The next year, SNCC organized in Selma, Alabama, to register blacks to vote. In 1962, Lewis was elected to the board of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The organization had the goal first of ending bus segregation, then of eliminating segregation altogether.

In 1963, Lewis — now chair of SNCC — helped organize the March on Washington and was one of its keynote speakers. Lewis gave a stirring speech just before the iconic “I Have a Dream” by King. The speech was initially intended to be more militant: “We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did,” he had written. President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill was “too little, too late,” he wrote, per the Times. But Dr. King and other elders worried that those passages would offend the Kennedy administration, whom they felt they could not alienate in their drive for federal civil rights action. They told him to tone down the speech.

Lewis acquiesced. But he still roused the crowd. According to the AJC, Lewis was interrupted by applause 14 times. “By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers,” he said, “we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!’” Lewis said. “We cannot be patient; we do not want our freedom gradually. We want to be free now […] we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”

Within months of that iconic day (on which some 200,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial), Lewis was back at work. In 1964, “Freedom Summer” began. Lewis and the SCLC began coordinating voter registration drives in Mississippi. The next year would change everything.

On March 7, 1965, John Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams led a crowd of about 600 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The goal was to bring attention to Jimmie Lee Jackson, who had been killed weeks earlier by a state trooper after trying to protect his mother during a voter registration march. But they didn’t get far. Police blocked their exit from the bridge and ordered them to disperse. “Major, please give us a moment to pray,” Williams asked. The police agreed — for about 90 seconds.

“Troopers advance!” the major then shouted.

“We had no chance to turn and retreat,” Lewis wrote in his autobiography. “I remember how vivid the sounds were as the troopers rushed toward us — the clunk of the troopers’ heavy boots, the whoops of rebel yells from the white onlookers, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves hitting the hard asphalt of the highway, the voice of a woman shouting, ‘Get ‘em!’”

The police (who had recruited all white men over 21) came forward with baseball bats, shotguns, tear gas, nightsticks, and rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire. Demonstrators were tear gassed and clubbed. According to the New York Times, some officers had cattle prods. ABC interrupted a showing of the 1961 film “Judgement at Nuremberg” with a special report depicting the violence. 17 people had to be taken to the hospital as a result of their injuries; some were beaten unconscious. Lewis was among those taken to a Selma hospital. One police officer beat Lewis with a billy club, then hit him again when he tried to get up. Lewis suffered a concussion…and a fractured skull.

Photo of what’s now known as “Bloody Sunday”: March 7, 1965. Note the billy club in the hands of the cop; note also that Lewis is holding his head. (Photo

The images shocked and horrified viewers. But they also galvanized support for the movement. Within eight days, President Lyndon B. Johnson had proposed voting rights legislation. The Voting Rights Act was signed on Aug. 6, 1965. The law gave Black Americans the right to vote, doing away with poll taxes and literacy clauses and numerous other tactics meant to stop them.

The Voting Rights Act was essentially gutted in 2013 by a controversial Supreme Court ruling. The decision by the Court struck down a crucial section of the law that required nine states (including Texas) to notify the federal government before making changes to their voting systems. Now, many observers are calling for the law’s restoration. A restoration bill has been sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk for over 200 days.

Pt. III

By 1966, the winds of change were in the air — and blowing against Lewis. Black people across the country were starting to reject nonviolence in favor of direct (and violent, if necessary) confrontation. Within the SNCC, agitators led by Stokely Carmichael felt Lewis was too chummy with President Johnson and Dr. King. In 1966, Lewis was replaced as SNCC chair by Carmichael, who moved to ban all white workers from the conference (according to the AJC).

He kept going. The next year, in 1967, Lewis earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University. Simultaneously, he worked to register voters at the Voter Education Project. That same year, according to the Times, he met librarian and teacher Lillian Miles. They were married in 1968. Mrs. Lewis died in 2012. Mr. Lewis is survived by their son, John Miles Lewis.

Lewis’ output slowed in the 1970s. But in 1977, President Jimmy Carter (a fellow Georgian) appointed Lewis to lead ACTION, a federal volunteer agency. In 1981, he launched a successful bid for Atlanta’s City Council. He served there for five years. In 1986, Lewis ran again for Congress, winning in a closely divided contest against friend Julian Bond. He would serve in the House of Representatives for over 30 years.

Lewis represented Georgia’s 5th District, which includes College Park, Decatur, and much of Atlanta. His Democratic colleagues called him “the conscience of the Congress”, and indeed, Lewis took principled stances on a number of hot-button issues. And he fought for causes he believed in.

In 1988, as a freshman senator, he and Texas Cong. Mickey Leland introduced a bill to create a national African American museum within the Smithsonian. Though there was opposition to the project in Congress, Rep. Lewis introduced the bill at every session of Congress for over a decade. The bill wasn’t signed, however, until 2003 — by then-President George W. Bush. A location was chosen in 2006, near the Washington Monument. Doors finally opened to the building in 2016.

He opposed the Persian Gulf War in 1991 – and, later, the Iraq War. He repeatedly accused President George W. Bush’s administration of lying, and was among the first to call for Bush’s impeachment, per the AJC. But he also worked with Republicans to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

Lewis endorsed President Barack Obama in 2008. After Obama’s swearing-in, he signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis that credited Lewis for his historic feat: “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.” The two marched together at the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches in 2015.

After 49 people were fatally shot at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, Lewis led House Democrats in a sit-in on the House floor to press the GOP to advance gun control legislation. The group huddled around Lewis and sang protest songs like “We Shall Overcome” for nearly 26 hours. Republican leaders cut the C-SPAN camera feed, dismissing the protest as a political stunt; Democrats broke House rules by streaming the events live from their cellphones.

In her remarks at Lewis’ funeral today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that she thought Lewis might be suspended for the protest. But she quickly added: “It was disruptive, good trouble. It was clear to [Capitol police], if they were going to arrest John Lewis for doing that, they were going to have to arrest the entire House Democratic caucus.”

Pelosi grew emotional as she remembered Lewis. She ended her remarks with a poignant goodbye: “We always knew he worked on the side of the angels. And now, he is with them.”

Juneteenth 2020

General Order Number 3, handwritten by F.W. Emery. (Courtesy of NPR.)

By Terrance Turner

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, TX, with some news. “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Granger read, quoting General Order Number 3. (That order was found yesterday, by staff at the U.S. National Archives. The photo is shown above.) The “Executive”, President Abraham Lincoln, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — two and a half years earlier. But the news didn’t reach the slaves until 1865, for reasons that are still unclear. (In December of that year, the 13th Amendment was passed, outlawing non-penal slavery nationwide.)

The slaves reacted with shock and jubilation to the announcement, according to Juneteenth.com. Many of them moved to Houston; the city’s black population more than tripled, per documents in the Library of Congress. One of those freed slaves was Jack Yates, who moved to Houston within days. According to ABC 13 Houston, Yates came to Houston and worked hauling freight. He became a Baptist preacher. He was the first pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church — Houston’s first black Baptist church. In 1872, he and three other men bought several acres of land for Emancipation Park, on what was then Dowling Street. (It is now Emancipation Avenue.) The four men bought the park so that they (and other black people) could celebrate Juneteenth.

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Emancipation Park. (Photo via Twitter.)

Rep. Al Edwards authored a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979. Surprisingly, Texas Monthly reports that Edwards met with resistance from fellow blacks in his quest to make Juneteenth a holiday. One state representative, Clay Smothers of Dallas, dismissed Edwards’ bill as proposing nothing more than “ceremoniously grinning and bursting watermelons on the Capitol grounds.”

Despite the resistance, Edwards persisted, and House Bill 1016 was passed by the Texas Legislature, making Texas the first state to officially commemorate Juneteenth. (Now every state recognizes the holiday except Hawaii and North Dakota.) Juneteenth became an official state holiday on Jan. 1, 1980. Now, 40 years later, there is a growing movement to make it a national holiday. That push has gained steam after a string of police killings (most notably George Floyd) and the death of Edwards from natural causes in April. He was 83.

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Roger Goodell, Pushed By Black NFL Players, Finally Admits the Truth

Roger Goodell announced a reversal of the NFL's stance on player protests on Friday. (Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

By Terrance Turner

Today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged a truth we know to be self-evident. But that acknowledgement came only belatedly, only after years of blacklisting outspoken black players. Only after quarterback Drew Brees caught fire for clueless comments about player protests. Only after days of large-scale protests broke out in Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, L.A., New York, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and beyond — and after a frankly stunning video from the players.

Yesterday, several black NFL players released a video addressing the racism and police brutality that have led to cities ravaged by protest. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Saints player Michael Thomas, and Giants running back Saquon Barkley appear in the film. So do two of the Kansas City Chiefs: safety Tyrann Mathieu and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. join them. They all ask the NFL to condemn racism. To admit its wrongdoing. To listen to its players.

“It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered,” Thomas begins.

“How many times do we have to ask you to listen to your players?” Mathieu asks.

What will it take?” questions Hopkins.

“What if I were George Floyd?” they ask. To hear them pose the question — some one by one, some in unison — is poignant enough. But to witness Mathieu, Hopkins, Zeke, Beckham, Barkley, Mahomes and others say “Black Lives Matter” gave me chills. The end is devastating: Beckham, with palpable emotion in his voice and liquid eyes, ends the video by repeating: “Black Lives Matter.”

The powerful video compelled Roger Goodell to do exactly what the players asked. After the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, after the blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL — and after 10 days of alternately peaceful and violent protests across our shores — Roger Goodell gets it. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video today condemning racism on behalf of the NFL.

“This has been a difficult time for our country — in particular, black people in this country,” Goodell said. He expressed condolences to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both killed by police in recent weeks. He even admitted to wrongfully silencing NFL players.

Here are his remarks, quoted in part by Yahoo! Sports:

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.

“We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.”

Roger Goodell: NFL admits ‘we were wrong’ on player protests, says ‘black lives matter’


He’s absolutely right. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And Roger Goodell knows it. According to a 2017 TIDES study, the NFL is roughly 70% black. And those black players form the backbone of the National Football League. It is their strength, their power, their athleticism, that power the league to earn billions of dollars year after year.

And it is their voices that have been silenced.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew harsh criticism (and the ire of the president) by protesting racism and police brutality in 2016. The sight of Kaepernick quietly kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem caused heated debate across America. It was clear from the beginning what his reasons were.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. But people apparently misheard him. Somehow it turned into a conversation about “disrespecting” the American flag. That false narrative was amplified by the president, who called on the league to fire players who kneeled. (But when white people stormed the Michigan State Capitol with firearms last month, he cheered the liberation” of America. From stay-home orders that were supposed to protect Americans from coronavirus.)

Somehow, it turned into a conversation about “offending” the military — some of whom supported Kaepernick, by the way. (Nobody talks about the fact that Kaepernick got the idea to kneel from a former Green Beret, according to the New York Times.) After Trump fanned the flames of racial animus, more and more people expressed outrage about the protests. And the NFL caved to the pressure, fining players who took a knee. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016, despite leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl three years earlier. The NFL didn’t support his peaceful protest. But now, things are different. Maybe.

After George Floyd, 46, was suffocated by then-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, something changed. The viral video of Chauvin spending eight minutes with his knee on Floyd’s neck was a cultural reset. It exposed the suffering that too many black Americans experience at the hands of the police. Days of protests displayed the raw pain and anger that black people felt after watching Floyd slowly die at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

That pain was intensified when reports surfaced about Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot eight times by police in Louisville. Police entered her home using a no-knock warrant, failing to identify themselves. They had the wrong house (!!!), and the suspect had already been arrested. They fired 22 rounds into her apartment anyway, killing Taylor. (Today would’ve been her 27th birthday.)

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in Glynn County, Georgia, when he was stalked and then shot to death. Gregory and his son Travis McMichael trailed Arbery in their pickup truck, while William Bryan aided the ambush by trying to block Arbery in. CNN reports that as Arbery tried to run away from his stalkers and ran past Bryan’s vehicle, Bryan hit him with the side of his truck. Then he watched and filmed the McMichaels’ deadly double-team. As Gregory aimed his handgun, Travis shot Arbery at point-blank range, making sure to walk over and call Arbery a “f—king nigger” as he lay dying.

In response to these tragedies, the unrest they caused, and the voices of the players, Goodell caved.

“I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve,” Goodell said.

He can start by giving Colin Kaepernick a call.

60,000 Protesters Gather in Houston for George Floyd

A view from the top of city hall as people join George Floyd's family in a march on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, from Discovery Green to City Hall in downtown Houston.
Photo courtesy of chron.com.

By Terrance Turner

Thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Houston this afternoon for a largely peaceful rally. Houston rappers Trae tha Truth and Bun B helped organize the demonstration in support of justice for George Floyd. (Mr. Floyd grew up in Houston’s Third Ward. In 2014, he moved to Minneapolis, where he was killed last week by former police officer Derek Chauvin.) Beginning at 3:00 pm, crowds of demonstrators amassed at Discovery Green.

Before the march officially kicked off, some participants were interviewed live. ABC 13 reporter Miya Shay interviewed Joanne Harris, who graduated from Jack Yates High School in 1959 (34 years before Floyd did in 1993). Harris said that the video of George Floyd’s murder impacted her greatly. “It was just devastating to me,” she said. “So it affected me tremendously.” As a black mother of black sons, she felt compelled to be there: “Every black person should be out here that’s able to walk or march,” she said.

Bun B asked the crowd to kneel and observe 30 seconds of silence before they began marching to City Hall at 3:30 pm.

At 4:00 pm, Bun B took the podium at City Hall to begin the speeches. He led the crowd to chant George Floyd’s name: “Say his name! Say his name!” Bun used his speech to advocate for police reform, with several elected officials standing nearby: “I plead with our mayor, our congresspeople, our council members: Please pass the bills needed to protect the black people of color from people hiding behind a badge on the streets.”

According to the Daily Beast, Bun B asked the crowd, on behalf of Floyd’s family, to keep the march peaceful. “If you see anyone instigating something, call them out,” he said. “The world is looking at Houston, Texas today. Let’s give them something to see.” (Full disclosure: I watched ABC’s live coverage of the event for more than three hours. But due to technical difficulties, I was unable to watch Bun B’s full remarks as he addressed the crowd.)

Also addressing the crowd was Trae Tha Truth, albeit with a more confrontational message.  “Today we gonna make a motherf–king statement, period,” he told the crowd. “We ain’t backing down from s–t. We have to tear up this system from the inside out. It’s not just about the bad cops, it’s about the people above those cops.”

Rev. Bill Lawson, founding pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, spoke next. He was a notable figure in the 1960s civil rights movement. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1960, he and his wife bailed out 14 Texas Southern University students who were arrested after staging a sit-in at a Houston lunch counter. Two years later, Lawson founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, which has been a mainstay in Third Ward for nearly six decades. (He is the father of KTRK anchor Melanie Lawson.)

“I hope that George Floyd has also energized us,” Rev. Lawson said, “and made us feel that we have to change this bad system.” He urged the protesters: “Keep mobilized, and don’t let this be a one-day parade.” He stressed that further action was needed in order to effect change. “The next thing you have to do is not march, but register & vote,” Rev. Lawson told the crowd. “We have to get out of office those people who feel they have to energize & make possible the actions of those who suppress black folks.”

By this time, the crowd was beginning to grow. KTRK reporter Marla Carter initially said that some 20,000 people had gathered downtown, but that number quickly multiplied. By 4:20 pm, the number of people attending had mushroomed to more than double the expected turnout:

At 4:30 pm, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed the crowd. “I want you to know that your marching, your demonstrating, your protesting, has not been in vain,” he told the crowd. He also vowed that it was time for the City of Houston to “review our own policies, procedures, and practices” in regards to police violence. “We are not perfect. We recognize that,” he said. But the mayor emphasized a commitment to respect and inclusion: “In our city, we respect every single person. Every person is important. We have to commit ourselves to making sure that we do better every single day.”

He urged the crowd to respect the wishes of George Floyd’s family, who asked for nonviolent demonstrations. “Today, it’s about lifting up the family of George Floyd. It’s about supporting 16 members of his family,” Turner said, as Floyd’s relatives stood behind him. “When we go home, they still have to deal with a relative that is no longer here.” 

“We want to love on them. We want them to know that George did not die in vain,” Mayor Turner said. “All that they ask is that as we march, protest, and demonstrate, that we do it in such a way that we do not deface his name. They want us to be peaceful! They want us to be peaceful.” That peaceful tone was echoed by the family of George Floyd, who spoke next.

“We got to do it the right way,” Floyd’s brother said, addressing the need for peaceful protests. Terrence Floyd decried the violence and looting that have plagued the streets ever since Floyd’s death. “You’re shaming all our names, not just his name,” he said, referring to agitators and rioters. “It’s bigger than my brother. We got kids growing up. We tryin’ to break the cycle right now. We got this,” he said. “Please, man, let my brother rest in peace.”

At about 4:45 pm, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee took the stage. She underscored Floyd’s roots in Third Ward, where he was well-known and cared for by residents. It’s a community Jackson-Lee herself represents. “Go around Cuney Homes,” she told those gathered. “Stand near Jack Yates [High School] and have people show you want George Floyd was all about. (Floyd graduated from Yates, where he also played football.)

“I don’t want to walk this journey again. It is time for a revolution of change,” she declared, “for justice for all of us, no matter our color.” She told the assembly that on Thursday, she plans to unveil what she called “revolutionary legislation”, named after George Floyd. The bill “talks about a new culture for police” that involves recruitment and de-escalation, she said.

But Jackson-Lee also made it a point to empower the audience through her words. “My friend [Al] Green and I have the privilege, and sometimes the challenge, of representing the most powerful nation in the world — the nation you own. This country is not of itself. You are this nation. And I come to you today for you to take your nation. Take your nation. It’s your country.” The crowd broke out into cheers and applause.

They were even more fired up after remarks by Cong. Al Green. “I am angry,” he told the crowd, voicing the collective, latent rage that erupted after the killing of George Floyd. Green expressed outrage about Floyd’s asphyxiation by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (now fired and criminally charged.) “We want an arrest, we want a conviction, and we want time! They’ve got to do some time.”

But Green added that mere charges and convictions aren’t enough. Like Jackson-Lee, he too is calling for broad and systemic change. “We’ve declared a War on Poverty,” Green said. “We declared a War on Drugs. We declared a war on cancer. It’s time to declare a war on racism in the United States of America.”

Circa 5:00 pm, the assembly concluded with a prayer by pastor John Gray. Pastor Gray once preached at Houston’s Lakewood Church; its pastor Joel Osteen (!!!) was in attendance. “This is our Emmett Till moment,” Gray told the crowd before beginning his prayer. “Let this anger turn into activism.”

The event remained largely peaceful throughout, although some minor skirmishes did break out after it ended at around 5:15 pm. Over an hour later, HPD Chief Art Acevedo was seen embracing and shaking hands with protesters at Walker and Crawford St. But as he made his way back to HPD’s downtown headquarters, he was confronted by angry protesters, asking why he hasn’t released body cam footage of 17 police shootings in Houston. As NBC News writer Mike Hixenbaugh reports:

As the sun began to set, after most of the estimated 60,000 marchers had gone home, a smaller group of activists surrounded Acevedo in the middle of a street and started demanding answers.

Full coverage of George Floyd’s death and protests around the country

They wanted to know why his department had refused to release body camera footage from six recent deadly police shootings in Houston. Some in the crowd shouted insults, calling Acevedo a “f—— liar” and a “hypocrite.” As Acevedo turned away from the agitated crowd, someone doused him with a bottle of water. A man yelled for him to resign.

“Houston’s police chief wins national praise — but faces local anger over shootings and transparency”, NBC News

The controversy was foreshadowed by Mayor Turner during his remarks. “No system is perfect,” he said. “And every day you’ve got to work at it, to gain the public trust.” That will be a challenge as protests continue.

Large Protest in Downtown Houston for George Floyd

Black Lives Matter Houston remembers George Floyd during a protest at City Hall, Friday May 29, 2020, in Houston. Floyd, originally from Houston’s Third Ward, died in the custody of Minneapolis police earlier this week, setting off protests across the country.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at City Hall to protest the death of George Floyd.
(Photo from the Houston Chronicle.)

By Terrance Turner

At 2 pm — less than an hour after charges were announced in the death of George Floyd — hundreds peacefully gathered at Discovery Green in downtown Houston to protest his murder. The protesters, some wearing masks, marched from Discovery Green to City Hall this afternoon. The Black Lives Matter Houston protest was scheduled from 2 until 4:30 pm, but may run longer.

Floyd was from Houston and went to high school in Houston’s 3rd Ward. He also had a daughter and other family here. In fact, Floyd lived in Houston for years before moving to Minneapolis in 2014. As a lifelong Houston resident, I rarely see large-scale demonstrations in the city I was raised. Which makes today’s big rally all the more surprising — and heartening.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Several hundred people marched in a heated Black Lives Matter demonstration that spilled onto an Interstate 45 entrance ramp near downtown Houston Friday, joining national outrage about the death of George Floyd with chants of “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace,” as they trekked from Discovery Green to City Hall.

Ashton Woods, Black Lives Matter Houston founder, said the rally was designed to make ensure that “people know that they have a place to come and express their anger and frustration.”

That anger and frustration was visible throughout the event. At one point, Woods was involved in a large fight that broke out outside City Hall after he was confronted by a man with a rifle. It was broken up by police and protesters, according to video footage from the scene.

Check back for more updates on this protest.

Former Cop Derek Chauvin Charged With 3rd-Degree Murder And Manslaughter After Killing George Floyd

Image
Photo from Twitter.

Today, Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman announced charges against former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in connection with the murder of George Floyd. Freeman made the announcement in a press conference three hours ago.

“I’m here to announce that former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is in custody. Former Minneapolis Police officer Derick Chauvin has been charged by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office with murder and with manslaughter,” Freeman said. “He has been charged with third-degree murder. We are in the process of continuing to review the evidence; there may be subsequent charges later. I failed to share with you: a detailed complaint will be made available to you this afternoon. I didn’t want to wait any longer to share the news that he’s in custody and has been charged with murder.”

“What about the other three officers?” one reporter asked. 

“The investigation is ongoing; we felt it appropriate to focus on the most dangerous perpetrator,” Freeman said. “I must say that this case has moved with extraordinary speed. This conduct  — this criminal action — took place on Monday evening, May 25th. Memorial Day. I am speaking to you at 1:00 [pm] on Friday, May 29th. That’s less than four days. That’s extraordinary. We have never charged a case in that kind of time frame, and we can only charge a case when we have sufficient admissible evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. As of right now, we have that.” 

In response to a follow-up question about why officers weren’t arrested earlier, Freeman responded: “We have charged this case as quickly as sufficient admissible evidence to charge it has been investigated and presented to us.” But the questions didn’t end there. “Yesterday you said that these kind of things take time,” a reporter noted. “What’s changed between yesterday and this afternoon?”

“Fair question,” Freeman answered. “We have now been able to put together the evidence that we need. Even as late as yesterday afternoon, we didn’t have all that we needed. We have now found it, and we felt a responsibility to charge this as soon as possible.”

Freeman refused to speak about specific pieces of evidence that influenced the decision, but said: “I can only talk about what’s in the complaint. You will see in the complaint the evidence and put it all together. We needed to have it all. Let me just quickly say: we have evidence. We have the citizens’ camera video — that horrible horrific terrible thing that we’ve all seen over and over again. We have the officer’s body-worn camera; we have statements from some witnesses; we have our preliminary report from the medical examiner; we have discussions with an expert. All of that has come together. So we felt, in our professional judgment, it was time to charge, and we have so done.”

Reporters pressed for details about the three officers who stood by and watched Chauvin suffocate Floyd to death. Freeman refused to comment on whether those three officers would be charged. “I’m not going to speculate today on the other officers; they are under investigation. I anticipate charges, but I am not gonna get into that. Today ,we are talking about former officer Chauvin, [whom] we believe met the standard to be charged,” he insisted.

In response to questions about statutes, Freeman stressed that the investigation is still in progress and may result in more charges. “The investigation is ongoing. We have more discussions to do with our experts. This is the same charges that we made when we charged former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor — the exact same 3rd degree charge and manslaughter charge,” he said. (Noor was charged for fatally shooting Justine Damond in 2016, after she called 911 to report a sexual assault happening near her home in Minnesota. He was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.)

“This is by far the fastest we’ve ever charged a police officer,” Freeman emphasized. “Normally, these cases could take nine months to a year. You have to charge these cases very carefully because we have a difficult burden of proof. And let me just say something about that: We entrust our police officers to use certain amounts of force to do their job, to protect us. They commit a criminal act if they use this force unreasonably. We have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

“The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is one of the few prosecuting offices in this country in the past five years to successfully prosecute a police officer for murder,” Freeman said. “And we did that on behalf of Justine Damond. We know how to do this. We are a very veteran prosecutor group; there’s a very veteran investigative group at the BCA. On top of that, we had great cooperation from the FBI and from United States Attorney Erica MacDonald. She may have some things to share with you soon, but she does that on her own timetable. I want to say to you that I’m very pleased about the level of cooperation which frankly, I would say to you, doesn’t necessarily happen in other jurisdictions, according to my friends and the national prosecutors.”

“Did public outrage play a role in the speed of this investigation?” a reporter asked.

“I am not insensitive to what’s happening in the streets,” Freeman replied. “My own home has been picketed regularly. My job is to do it only when we have sufficient evidence. We have it today,” Freeman said. “We do our level best to charge each case when we have the evidence to do it. But we cannot, and I will not, allow us to charge a case until it’s ready. This case is now ready, and we have charged it.”

The complaint has been completed; it is being processed now, and a signed copy will be made available to you today,” Freeman said before he left the podium.

ABC News reporter Terry Moran noted: “Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder is defined as ‘whoever without intent to affect the death of any person causes the death of another, by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others’. So it is not murder with intent; Mike Freeman was asked about that and he said this is the appropriate charge, given the evidence. But the investigation continues.”