April 29th will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 L.A. riots. If you’re thinking that’s impossible and where did the time go, that makes two of us.
Among the most horrifying images of the riots was the brutal beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. Interestingly, the video footage was shot by helicopter news reporter Bob Tur, who currently resides in Santa Monica.
I’m reminded of the riots because of my grave concerns about two violent and shocking homicides of black males in different parts of the country, and where justice seems nowhere to be found. At this rate, I may have to change my column banner to “No Laughing Matter.”
The first case involves the much publicized Sanford, Fla. killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old high school student. Having bought Skittles and an iced tea at a local convenience store, Trayvon was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s house when he was shot to death by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch “captain.” Zimmerman, who was told by the 911 dispatcher NOT to follow Martin, is still a free man.
Additionally disheartening is how differently the shooting is being viewed by sectors of society. An indicator of how deeply divided we are as a country probably goes back to the 2000 presidential election. Another example, oddly enough, was when former baseball pitcher Roger Clemens testified before Congress in 2008. Bear with me for a moment.
As I recall it was downright embarrassing to watch GOP Congress members fall all over backwards to praise Clemens. (Some even asking for his autograph.) Many Democrats, however, thought Clemens was lying when he vehemently denied he’d ever used performance enhancing drugs. Ultimately, Clemens was indicted on six counts of perjury and obstruction of Congress. The case is still pending.
So it was with the enhanced video that shows perhaps Zimmerman had bruises on his head. So desperate to “win,” to the pro-gun crowd this was proof of his innocence. As with so much in our deeply polarized society, truth seems secondary to political agendas.
A fact, like Zimmerman was told by the 911 dispatcher NOT to follow Trayvon and he did anyway, is somehow overlooked. Also a fact, during the past 15 months, Zimmerman called 911 46 times. (During that period how many times have you called 911?) And I can’t overlook the racial slur I heard Zimmerman mumble on the 911 tape. Clearly, a complete investigation is needed immediately if justice is to prevail.
The second case has received shockingly little coverage, though I think that’s about to change. On Nov. 19, 2011, 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was asleep at his apartment in White Plains, N.Y. A 20-year veteran of the Westchester County Department of Corrections, Chamberlain was a former Marine who suffered from a heart condition.
As fate would have it, Mr. Chamberlain’s LifeAid medical alert pendant inadvertently went off in his sleep, which led to police, firefighters, and paramedics going to Chamberlain’s home. Chamberlain informed the police that he didn’t need help. LifeAid also asked the police to withdraw their request for assistance.
In addition, Chamberlain’s niece, who lives in the same building, begged the officers to call his son who lives only five minutes away. Inexplicably, she was turned away. Instead, the police banged on Chamberlain’s door for an hour. Allegedly they mocked his reference to being a former Marine and called him the “n” word.” (All on audio tape recorded by LifeAid.)
Finally the police took the door off its hinges and forced their way in. Their story is that Chamberlain came at them with a knife so they Tasered him. One thing is certain, within minutes two 40-caliber rounds were fired into Chamberlain and he was dead two hours later. (Giving new meaning to “Serve and Protect.”)
This happened in November, 2011, and the event is still shrouded in mystery. The good news is that, as of Thursday, the Westchester D.A.’s Office confirmed the shooting will go to a grand jury. Meanwhile, efforts to get the Department of Justice or the New York State Attorney general involved are ongoing as it clearly appears that Chamberlain’s killing was racially motivated.
Interestingly, White Plains police are claiming “self-defense” just as Zimmerman did. (And yet in both cases there was no crime scene until they showed up.) To fully comprehend this heartbreaking and senseless miscarriage of justice, go to Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez at: www.democracynow.org/appearances/kenneth_chamberlain_jr.
It’s ironic that I write this as our new police chief, Jacqueline Seabrooks, will assume command on May 1. We can take pride that Chief Seabrooks, a 25-year SMPD veteran, is a black woman. Then again, given Trayvon Martin and Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., perhaps it’s true that the more things change the more they stay the same.
To voice your opinion go to Facebook and join “Justice For Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.” or call Karen Pasquale at the White Plains mayor’s office (914) 422-1411. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.