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  July 29, 2013

LA Holds Weeklong Protest Demanding Justice For Trayvon Martin

The discontent of African American community especially the youth, erupted because of the Zimmerman not guilty verdict but reflects systemic bias in the criminal justice system
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Oscar León is an experienced international press correspondent and documentary filmmaker based in Arizona. His work has reached continental TV broadcast in many occasions on Telesur, ECTV, Ecuavisa, Radio Canada, Canal Uno and even Fox Sports Latin America and El Garaje TV; he has been a TRNN correspondent since 2010. Oscar has reported from as many as 9 countries and more than 12 cities in US; his coverage includes TV reports, special reports and TV specials, not only covering social movements, politics and economics but environmental issues, culture and sports as well. This includes the series "Reportero del Sur", "Occupy USA - El Otoño Americano", "Habia una vez en Arizona", "Motor X" all TV mini series broadcasted to all Americas and "Once upon a time in Arizona" finalist in Radio Canada's "Migration" 2010 contest.


OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: In the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin and the protests that followed, we move to L.A. The protest there last for a week, from Sunday 14th to the 21st. Los Angeles Times reported 17 total arrest, most of them for unlawful assembly, eight of which were juveniles. For many people, Zimmerman acquittal was the straw that broke the camel's back.

UNIDENTIFIED: Once again the criminal justice system has betrayed the black community. But was I surprised? Hell no, because I know in my heart that the white people on the jury were people who felt that Zimmerman was more their son then Trayvon Martin.

LEÓN: In downtown Los Angeles, many march protesting the verdict. But not only Trayvon's murder is the reason for the outrage.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, Marissa Alexander, she got, what, 20 years for protecting herself from an abuser? And she had the right to. She was in--standing her ground to defend herself. So obviously the stand-your-ground law in Florida does not apply to black people.

LEÓN: On Tuesday, many gathered on Leimert Park to protest. Some people diverted from the march and caused numerous damages to public and private property. Even bystanders were assaulted. The local Walmart claims $15,000 of property damage. Many other business around the city are a testimony of the rage. The protest follow [krInS@] Avenue until they reach Hollywood. According to AP, on [incompr.], 13 individuals were arrested. Mainstream media broadly broadcasted the violence. And conservative networks use it to set the tone for its talking panels.

However, Sunny Sasajima, LAPD senior lead officer of the Southwest District say the police are fully aware that those who vandalize are not the activists who protested in Leimert Park.

SUNNY SASAJIMA, SENIOR LEAD OFFICER, LAPD SOUTHWEST DIVISION: But just to make it clear, you know, we believe and in talking with a lot of people it really wasn't the case that the protesters or the folks that were gathered here at the park were causing the problems. It's people that use the protest as an excuse to come out here and cause problems.

LEÓN: He further states that LAPD is not a racist institution.

SASAJIMA: You look around our police department, if you go around and take a look at our department as a whole, you see black, white, Hispanic, Asians. You see black, white, Hispanic, you know, basically all races at various levels of our department. So to say that there's, like, blatant racism, I don't believe that that's the case.

LEÓN: However, while the individuals might not be racist, the policies might very well be. At least that is what the work of Ashley Franklyn from the Labor Strategy Community Center seems to show.

ASHLEY FRANKLYN, LABOR STRATEGY COMMUNITY CENTER: So we have 2.3 million people in prison. One million of them are black folks. Five hundred thousand and counting are Latino folks. We have the largest school police department, and they have over a $54 million budget, right, and at the time where we only have one counselor per 1,016 students. Right? Black students are six times more likely than a white person to be arrested. Latino students are four times as likely than a white student to be arrested.

So, given these conditions inside of schools, we have to talk about school-to-prison pipeline. What are the laws and the policies that are pushing our students outside of schools and making it so hostile and uncomfortable that they're not learning in schools?

LEÓN: Lola Smallwood Cuevas, from the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, believes unemployment is one of the main causes for the youngsters' outrage.

LOLA SMALLWOOD CUEVAS, LOS ANGELES BLACK WORKER CENTER: The poverty that generationally our families have experienced is pretty much the same for most African-American communities. I mean, here in L.A. County, we have an unemployment rate amongst black working-age adults of about 21 percent. We have an underemployment rate of about 35 percent. So you have, you know, over half of the black community in a compounded crisis.

LEÓN: The Black Worker Center is organizing a broad coalition of black workers in South L.A. to demand a fair share of the construction jobs created by the Obama administration's stimulus plan. She says that on the first stage, the jobs were filled mostly with Latinos and white workers, leaving the black community very unhappy. Smallwood believes the youth is especially at risk in this issue.

SMALLWOOD CUEVAS: You see sort of in the civil rights movement opportunities to come into jobs, and then in the '80s a complete shutdown and a closing of the door and sort of regression and going back to lack of opportunity. And so, you know, I would say in the last 30 years the crisis has gotten to a point where, you know, young black men like Trayvon, unemployment for those young men in our communities at 66 percent, right? So that's, like, a genocidal level. At this point, because of, you know, the deindustrialization of cities, because of the de-unionization, because of the deregulation that allows companies to just outsource work, to pick up and to move to places where it's cheaper and you can really profit off of people, because of all of that, we have been in this spiral down. And it's created--you know, what's left behind is violence, is hopelessness, is despair, is broken schools, is lack of credit, is poor health. You know. So the economic condition is the root of a lot of what's happening in the black community.

LEÓN: On Leimert Park we found Luigi, a rapper from the band Witchkraft. He incarnates a generation that meet criminalization and jail at an early age.

LUIGI, RAPPER, WITCHKRAFT: I mean, I'm from Long Beach originally. I'm from a neighborhood, I'm from [incompr.] everybody robbing people, shooting people. But my mom took the the determination to take me out the neighborhood and for me--to take me somewhere where I could be better and [incompr.] myself and graduate high school at least. [incompr.] people walking around this park right now ain't graduated high school. Know what I'm saying?

But look at them. Look at them looking at us. You know what I'm saying? Like, they're ready to hop out the car and beat--the cops are riding four deep. You understand? Listen, the cops are riding four deep in the car. You're not paying attention to what the cops are doing. You don't understand, 'cause you're not from around here. When the cop car is driving past, it's the cage behind the back seat. The doors are locked, so you can't unlock it. These guys take the cages out. Look at them looking at us. They take the cages out the back seat, unlock the back doors. So it's four people riding in one car. They're ready to hop out and beat somebody up and hop in the car and go do it to the next black man or a Mexican or a white, whoever is protesting. You know what I'm saying?

LEÓN: Osbe, another rapper from the band, has lost all faith in the system.

OSBE, RAPPER, WITCHKRAFT: This is an ongoing thing. Like, society [incompr.] all type of loopholes that we all know about that they're getting over with. You know. Injustice [incompr.] all of that, especially on black people and minorities, period, but especially on black people. You know what I'm saying? It's been going on for years, since slavery.

LEÓN: J Millz thinks generation X could change the world.

J MILLZ, RAPPER, WITCHKRAFT: If we--if our generation can put their mind to the point and the maximum capacity of what they can do, they can change the world.

LEÓN: However, many in Leimert Park doubt that the generation X can fight back and get real changes like those in the '60s.

RUDOLPH PORTER, L.A. PHILHARMONIC RETIREE: I think they're capable, but I must say I'm still in question about this young, wild, youthful generation now. I'm not quite sure where they're going to take it.

KUNTA SMITH, MUSICIAN: During my generation, we struggled for equality in this country. So when we couldn't get equality, we had to fight for it and march for it in the street. This new generation, they're all about tattoos, killing each other. So they're not about unity like we were.

LEÓN: The racial struggle is connected to the economic one. And if a change is to be implemented, a more tactical approach is needed. That is the thinking of David Hickman, a disabled war veteran.

DAVID HICKMAN, DISABLED WAR VETERAN: Young people today, they don't understand that. They think that they're supposed to create havoc and melee throughout the United States for what happened. That's not the way to handle that situation, because it is politically and politically minded to know how to handle that situation so you won't get in trouble. I don't want to go to jail. But I don't mind voicing my opinion.

LEÓN: Maybe Hickman has a point and a strong African-American political movement is needed. Here are some disturbing facts. In an article of the Black Agenda Report, Dr. Reginald Clarke notes that since the president, Obama, was elected, the only group whose situation has not improved as far as employment goes are the African American, for example going from underemployment to steady jobs, while other racial groups have decreased its underemployment at a rate of 20 percent. Clark says, "The rate of under-employment for blacks has increased from 16% in 2009 to 20% at the end of 2012. This represents a 25% worsening in the rate of black underemployment during Obama's first term in office."

The New York Times shows another stunning disparity. In an article by Sam Roberts, The Times review a study by Becky Pettit and Brian Sykes, who try to quantify statistics about African-American populations and found that "The real problem ... is that imprisoned black men aren't figured into statistics about the standing of African-Americans. The consequence, she says, is an overstatement of black progress in education, employment, wages, and voting participation." They further note that "By the time they turn 18, one in four black children will have experienced the imprisonment of a parent. More young black dropouts are in prison or jail than have paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service. Black dropouts are more likely to spend at least a year in prison than to get married." In the article of The New York Times, Dr. Pettit states, "Among low-skill black men, spending time in prison has become a normative life event, furthering their segregation from mainstream society."

After a week of demonstration, many arrests, and thousands of dollars of property damage and overtime for police officers, demonstrations readily toned down. Justice Department says it is determining if it will file civil right charges against Zimmerman. But many are demanding the Department of Justice take more profound action.

Reporting for The Real News, this is Oscar León.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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