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Black scholars: Not surprised by verdict

Criminalization of Black and Latino youth on the rise in America

D. Kevin McNeir | 7/24/2013, 12:03 p.m. | Updated on 7/24/2013, 12:03 p.m.

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CAROLE BOYCE-DAVIES

— Why are Black men and Black youth sentenced more often and to longer stays in prison that those of other races? Does America’s criminal justice system deal more harshly with Blacks and are the cards stacked against Black and Latino youth from the very beginning? These and other questions were explored during a provocative panel discussion held last weekend sponsored by the Florida Africana Studies Consortium [FLASC] at the Multitudes Contemporary Gallery in Little Haiti. One of the panelists, Jeremy I. Levitt, Distinguished Professor of Law at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University [FAMU], said he wasn’t surprised by the jury’s decision in the George Zimmerman case. “We got it twisted by believing that the prosecutors wanted to bring justice to the Martin family,” Levitt said. “First and foremost what we have to remember is that prosecutors are the ones who are handing out death sentences to Black males. So why would they want to send Zimmerman to jail for killing a Black male?” Levitt was joined by other members of the Black intelligentsia and asked to weigh-in on the phenomena of race relations in modern day society. “The murder of Trayvon and the subsequent not guilty verdict for Zimmerman, the young man’s confessed murderer, follow on the heels of the City of Miami’s police-involved shootings and deaths of seven Black men, many of them unarmed,” said Dr. Carole Boyce-Davies, Cornell University Africana Studies, who also serves as the chair and founder of FLASC. “They are all examples of the use of excessive force aimed at Blacks and they violate our Fourth Amendment rights.” Jahra McLawrence, Esq., a Fort Lauderdale-based criminal defense attorney, says the prosecution threw the case away when they charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. He also believes that the venue should not have been in Zimmerman’s own backyard. “The prosecution’s first mistake — and a big one at that — was going for second-degree murder,” he said. “Zimmerman should have been charged with manslaughter where they didn’t have to prove ill will or spiteful intent. He would have been facing 30 years — now he’s a free man allowed to once again walk the streets.”

Comments From The Audience

Has the Martin/Zimmerman incident created a slippery-slope where individuals that identify as neighborhood watch officials can shoot first and ask questions later? That’s what several audience participants wanted to know. “What type of neighborhood was Zimmerman living in?” asked Darrell Davis. “Why did he feel so comfortable walking around patrolling with a gun? Where were the police?” Phyllis Baker, a Miami resident said she has mixed emotions given the death of Trayvon Martin. Her nephew was also murdered but as she says, his case barely got attention from authorities or the community. “Who cries for the mothers whose children have been killed?” she said. “Who cries for us?”