A Bitter Pill: Freddie Gray’s Family Left Devastated as DOJ Decides Not to Charge Officers

freddie gray*In a gut wrenching bookend to the events set in motion by the tragic death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, the Department of Justice has decided not to press Federal charges against any of the six Baltimore Police Officers involved in the 25-year olds death. In a statement released this past Tuesday, the DOJ said:

“After an extensive review of this tragic event, conducted by career prosecutors and investigators, the Justice Department concluded that the evidence is insufficient”
With Baltimore prosecutors dropping all charges against the officers last July, the announcement effectively marks the end of the criminal investigation in the matter.
Gray’s death came as a result of spinal cord injuries he had sustained after being pursued by the police for possessing an illegal switchblade.

Gray had been handcuffed, and was being transported in the back of a police car without a secured seatbelt when the accident allegedly occurred. Shortly after Gray’s death, Baltimore State Attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby had pointed to the gross negligence of the officers as a main contributing factor to Gray’s death, stating that the driver had given Gray a “rough ride”.

The aftermath of Gray’s death saw protests, rioting and looting break out across the predominantly black city, as anger swelled over police brutality and racism. Now, 2 years later, it seems that Gray’s family can finally move on from grievous wounds inflicted by his death. Speaking to reporters, attorney to the family, Hassan Murphy, spoke about the disappointment the family felt at the DOJ’s decision.

“They are disappointed that no one will be held accountable for their son’s tragic death, which occurred while in police custody… This is a bitter pill for all of us to swallow. It is the end of a chapter, and it is a sad and tragic chapter”

However, Murphy admitted that after speaking to the DOJ and learning of the process with which the decision had been taken; that both he and the family had come away with some measure of acceptance regarding the investigation.

“We have to admit that we left satisfied with the investigation undertaken by this particular group of lawyers at the Department of Justice, most of, or all of them, holdovers from the Obama administration, and they were frank and forthright about the things they had done and the steps they had taken in this investigation.”

All officers involved in the case are still employed with the Baltimore Police Department. But internal disciplinary hearings for 5 of them are scheduled for October 30.

8 Things You Should Know About the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

i have a dream speechFifty-four years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most motivational speeches in history: the I Have a Dream speech. This speech was a crucial moment during the civil rights movement and is still commemorated today.

While almost everyone learns about this MLK speech in school, here are a few things you might not know about this iconic speech. Let’s take a look at just a few interesting facts!

  1. The “I have a dream” section of the speech was delivered spontaneously due to one of King’s friends, Mahalia Jackson, shouted “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” This came to be the most well-known part of the speech. It was also used in some of MLK’s previous lesser-known speeches.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr. gave many speeches, his first national address being six years before the I Have a Dream speech. It was given to a crowd of 15,000 to 30,000 people.
  3. President Kennedy commented “That guy is really good” while watching the speech. The head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division, William Sullivan, was less impressed than the President. In a memo, he stated that King was “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism … and national security.”
  4. The sound system that was installed for the King’s speech was sabotaged right before it began.
  5. There were a total of 10 speakers at the event at the Lincoln Memorial. MLK was the last speaker, so multiple people had already left before he spoke.
  6. Almost one-fourth of the March attendees were white.
  7. King stayed up until 4 a.m. working on his speech the night before. His advisors, Stanley Levison and Clarence Jones, wrote the first draft of the speech which was originally called “Normalcy – Never Again.”
  8. The speech references Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, The Emancipation Proclamation, and the U.S. Constitution: “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning. ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers dies, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.” — MLK used these “My Country Tis of Thee” lyrics to further show how the Nation would soon be united.

The I Have a Dream speech was given to more than 250,000 people during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While people may not have recognized the importance of this speech at that time, it remains an important part of history that we still learn about today. And now you know a little bit more about it.

Ray Lewis Statue Removal Petition Now Has 25,000 Signatures and Growing!

ray lewis & players kneeling

*We can only imagine what Ray Lewis‘ mind is tripping on today as reports circulate that a petition to remove his statue from Ravens Stadium is gathering steam.

As we said earlier in our story about Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller losing his gig as a spokesperson for a Denver car dealership, sometimes, when you stand for something, you lose something.

In any event, it must be really, really ironic after warning Colin Kaepernick to keep quiet about social activism earlier this year, Lewis, former Ravens great knelt during the playing of the national anthem Sunday with current members of the team.

Lewis said Tuesday his decision to kneel on both knees was to “simply honor God in the midst of chaos.” Uh oh, as far as some white folks (and Trump followers) are concerned, he may as well have peed on the flag. The bottom line is that he was criticized for the anthem demonstration by both Kaepernick supporters and those who believe Lewis and the Ravens were disrespecting the flag.

Unfortunately, the latter launched a petition Sunday to remove Lewis’ statue from M&T Bank Stadium, saying on Change.org that kneeling during the anthem is “disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting.”

The petition addressed to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has received more than 25,000 signatures as of Tuesday night.

“I took two knees because I have a first amendment right just like everybody else. And when I came out of that locker room, I had choice to make,” Lewis told 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore.

“And look at my fellow players and I looked at these young guys. I’m not in the protesting business, I’m not into this, whatever (Donald) Trump wanna say. I’m not into that mess, but if these young boys doing what they doing, then I got to meet them where they are.”

Get the rest of this story at EURweb.


Human Rights Causes That MLK Supported (That You Never Learned In School)

civil rights educationMartin Luther King Jr. was an avid activist, a civil rights leader, and a respected public figure. While considered a key figure in the civil rights movement and in civil rights education, Dr. King is renowned to have been dedicated to various human rights causes up until his assassination in 1968.

The 1960s were a time of political and social advancement for America’s un-privileged and persecuted. MLK himself was placed in jail for his advocacy up to 29 times. The following are only a few of the human rights causes Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated to.

  1. The movement for school reform
    All Americans are entitled to a valuable and equal education under their constitutional rights. Dr. King believed, according to “The Purpose of Education” (1947), that unsegregated education and curriculum reform were to keys to integrity and the evolution of the human character. When multiple lifestyles, religions, social classes, etc, were brought together into a classroom, the classroom then becomes less biased and more real.
  2. Equal pay and workers’ rights
    Martin Luther King Jr. was an avid anti-capitalist when it came to the economic future of the United States. He argued for equal pay for Americans regardless of race and gender and for the equal rights of workers.
  3. Equal rights for sanitation workers
    Dr. King actively spoke regarding equal rights for workers, but much of the time he spoke for the equal rights of sanitation workers. The year of his assassination, Dr. King was helping to mobilize workers for the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. He spoke to a crowd of workers the very night of his death urging them to fight for acceptable wages, adequate safety, and union recognition.
  4. Interfaith work
    Dr. King, a firm friend of Malcolm X, believed in the recognition of religious differences and the unification of these differences to advocate for social change. Coretta Scott King has referenced that King and Malcolm X, who was Muslim, would have become a strong force of interfaith advocacy has Dr. King survived.
  5. Marriage equality
    In 2012, CNN published an article discussing how Dr. King may have felt regarding marriage equality. The feelings, CNN concluded, most likely would have been positive. Coretta Scott King passionately advocated for marriage equality until her death in 2006. John Lewis, Dr. King’s colleague and close friend, had also explained in 2014 that civil rights and equal rights for marriage were the same fight.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a revered public figure in the civil rights movement and a key influence on civil rights education. It’s important to note that Dr. King fought and advocated for a number of human rights causes within the civil rights movement and to not let that information regarding civil rights education be lost to history.

Congress Passes Legislation That Forces Trump To Condemn White Supremacists, But Will He Sign?

donald trump - speech on white supremacists

*According to the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Donald Trump will “absolutely” sign a bill passed by the House and Senate that urges him to speak out against all forms of racism and prejudice.

It has been the question on everyone’s mind ever since word got around that the Congress had unanimously passed a joint resolution, billed by Washington insiders as the “Charlottesville Resolution” through to the president’s office. In the past, Trump has been notoriously wishy-washy when it came to condemning clear acts of racial violence, most notably in a speech following the death of Heather Heyer, where he ascribed blame for the violence at Charlottesville to “many sides.”  The President went on to describe many members of the racist mob as being “very fine people”.

This bill provides the President no such leeway, stating in clear terms that it

Urges the President and his administration to speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy…”

In addition, the resolution clearly names several well-known white supremacist organizations as hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis as well as other white nationalists. The bill also urges the Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to incidents, such as those which claimed the life of Heather Heyer, as acts of domestic terrorism.

While these sorts of declarations are simply treated as statements of intent on behalf of the Congress, requiring no input from the President himself; this particular bill was submitted as a joint resolution which will require Trump’s signature within 10 days of being passed to his office.

While Trump ponders over whether he can commit to such a controversial bill, he also has a meeting with Republican Senator Tim Scott to mull over. The Senator represents the only black member of the Republican Senate, and earlier this year he had responded to President Trump’s weak statement following Charlottesville by saying Trump’s moral authority had been compromised.

In a 30-minute long session with the President held at the Oval Office, the Senator discussed amongst other issues; bringing value to the White House staff through increased diversification and, “what to do next”, after the controversial remarks made following Charlottesville.

For his part, Scott thinks that Trump, “obviously reflected” on the conversation the two had. Trump is described as having listened intently to the Scott’s perspective, and was heard saying “I understand” several times throughout the talk. We’ll see how much of it rubbed off on him when and if Trump decides to sign this new bill.


Kevin Ashley Parnell Sends Several Racist Texts and Threats before Killing an Innocent Black Man

Kevin Ashley Parnell

Kevin Ashley Parnell

“I’m going to strip you naked and whip you like the slave you are.”

That was the harrowing message Kevin Ashley Parnell left for his daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Jordan Briggs, via Facebook.

It was just one of the many racially charged messages the police say Parnell sent. He would send one more “you were warned”, before finally taking to the road and showing up at Briggs’ house in the Dallas area.

Authorities say that Parnell was left incensed after his daughter was arrested on charges of prostitution. According to reports, Parnell blamed Briggs for the incident, a charge which Briggs wholeheartedly denied.

Briggs recounts the series of events that followed as Parnell showed up at his residence in a white pick–up. Describing how he heard Parnell banging on his door, calling for him to come out. At which point Briggs had frozen up and gone to the back of the house. His roommate, 28-year-old Sammie Jones, who is also black, had instead decided to go out and confront Parnell, in an attempt to calm the man down.

However, when Parnell attempted to apologize and ease the tension, Parnell pulled out a gun allegedly stating;

“You know what kind of gun this is boy? It is a Glock 40.”

Briggs describes what happened next.

“Sammie was being so calm. … He just shot my bro in the face and burned off,”

Upon arrival at the scene, the police immediately announced the young man’s death. In a statement released after the incident, Homicide detective, Sgt. Joe Loughman, backed up the story as described by Parnell saying,

“He was shot because he was trying to keep an irate man from his friend”.

The police issued an arrest warrant for Parnell the same night the murder took place, arresting the man the next morning as he showed up to work at his contract job at a General Motors factory. He is currently being held at Mansfield Jail in Texas, with bail set at $500,000.

In a strange irony, Parnell’s daughter is actually biracial, and the prostitution charges levied against her were recently dismissed after she was placed on deferred-adjudication probation for her role in an unrelated theft.

As far has her father goes, the likely charges he will face are still up in the air. The Texas law does allow for sentencing on crimes to be enhanced if Judges or Juries deem them to be hate crimes. Such an allowance is not made in the case of first-degree felonies such as murder, as these already carry a maximum sentence of 5-99 years.


Today’s Important Black Thinkers Part 2

the civil rights movementFifty-seven years after the sit in movement began in Greensboro, North Carolina and swept across 55 cities in 13 states, the civil rights movement continues. But unfortunately, many in the United States believe the civil rights movement ended with Dr. Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech.

That is why we’ve decided to write this two part series and shine a light on some of the most important critical thinkers of today.

Tiq Milan
Tiq Milan is an advocate for both black and LGBT rights. He is also one of the most prominent black trans men in the media today. Throughout his career, Milan has served as an educator and writer. His pieces have appeared in publications like Ebony, BET, and The New York Times.

Like Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Milan has also become notable for the way he advocates for intersectionality while discussing matters of leadership, transgender rights, and racial justice.

Milan is also a founder of the Milan Media Arts Productions, which both creates content and consults for other production companies in order to create a more authentic narrative of queer peoples.

Cornel West
Dr. Cornel West has long been considered a leading thinker in the black community. He works at Harvard as a Professor of Practice of Public Philosophy, as well as holding the title of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University.

West has written 20 books, including Race Matters in which he examines a host of issues ranging from the myth of black sexuality to the poor relations between Jewish people and African Americans. Of the four thinkers we have examined, West is likely the most familiar thanks to his numerous guest appearances on the Bill Maher Show, CNN, C-span, and more.

West is a major figure in leftist politics and has been critical of more centrist Democrats. He is aware of his own more extreme views and will use his beliefs to force people into confronting their unexamined biases on subjects such as race, gender, and class.

In his many motivational speeches, MLK outlined his dream for the United States. While that dream has yet to be realized, it is the thinkers we have listed here who will help to realize the promise of America as a nation with freedom and liberty for all.

Today’s Important Black Thinkers Part 1

motivational speechesWhen it comes to civil rights, too many people think that struggle was over when the 88th Congress banned discrimination in public facilities and schools with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But one doesn’t need to “be woke” to understand that a few battles won don’t mean the war is over.

That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the important black thinkers who have stepped up to realize the promise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s motivational speeches, including his I Have a Dream speech. Like Joshua son of Nun, who led the Israelites into Canaan, they will lead America into the land of opportunity and equality for all people.

In this blog series, we’ll examine four important Black thinkers you may not have heard of.

Kimberle Williams Crenshaw
Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA and the Columbia School of Law, Crenshaw has been one of the most important thinkers when it comes to critical race theory. She is perhaps best known for inventing and developing the concept of intersectionality, the idea different oppressed identities overlap and can contribute to oppression and discrimination.

Currently, Crenshaw operates a think tank called the African American Policy Forum. Founded in 1996, the AAPF aims to promote strategies that address racial justice in conjunction with gender, class, and other marginalized groups.

Possibly the greatest achievement of Crenshaw’s career was the influence of her work on the South African Constitution, which provided inspiration for the drafting of the Constitution’s equality clause.

Congressman Keith Ellison
Representing Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, Ellison was the first Muslim to be elected to congress. He is perhaps best known for being a progressive voice in the Democratic National Committee, of which he is the Deputy Chair.

Ellison tracks his own political career to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X at age 13 and the turmoil in his native Detroit in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He spent a great deal of his college career as an organizer, laying the groundwork for his current career in politics.

He is now recognized as one of the strongest voices for lower class individuals and marginalized groups.

This concludes our first post examining the great black thinkers of today. If you would like to learn more, stay tuned to for the second half of this series. If you would like more information on MLK and his motivational speeches, visit the King Program today!

Speeches and Civil Rights: A Broader Lens Part 2

i have a dream speechWhile most people are familiar with the “I Have A Dream” speech, few realize that Martin Luther King Jr delivered as many as 450 speeches at more than 2500 public events during his lifetime. That number is astounding, begging the question, how could someone write so many speeches during their lifetime?

The answer is simple: he didn’t — at least not without help. Like most public speakers, MLK employed speechwriters to help his craft his speeches, even his “I Have A Dream” speech. Of course, he had a hand in shaping the speeches, taking what had been written for him and making it his own.

But Martin Luther King Jr. knew, as the best public speakers always do, that he was not the focal point his speeches. Instead, he was giving voice to the civil rights movement en masse. So he enlisted the help of other civil rights leaders to lend their words.

In this second half of our series on speeches, we will examine three prominent African American speechwriters, past and present.
Clarence B. Jones
Jones was a close advisor and personal counsel for Martin Luther King, as well as the first African American allied member of the New York Stock Exchange. Despite his other triumphs, Jones is best known as a coauthor of King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Jones had taken over as a speechwriter for King three years before the March on Washington as a result of increasing FBI interest in King and his associates forced King’s previous speechwriter, Stanley David Levison, to step away from the movement. He told Vanity Fair“I had listened to King speak so often that I could hear his cadence in my head and ears.”

J. Terry Edmunds
Edmunds has the distinction of being the very first African-American Speechwriter in the White House, although Edmunds didn’t realize that himself after first taking the job during the Clinton Administration.
He tells Gothamist,”I thought that I had been given an opportunity to do something momentous, important and hopefully fun. After being on the job for a while, getting my feet wet and what have you, it did gradually dawn on me.”

Edmunds had intended to be a journalist in college but struggled to find work, pointing out that the jobs simply weren’t available in the early 70s. So Edmund took a job as in public relations. Slowly he became involved in politics, working as press secretary for then-Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume, and then as the speechwriter for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala. From there, he moved to the White House.

Stacey Abrams
While Georgia state Representative Abrams is best known for her current campaign for Alabama’s Gubernatorial race, she began her career working as a typist while in high school. However, she quickly came to the attention of campaign leadership when the tweaks she made were considered so good that she was hired as a speechwriter at the young age of 17.

While Rep. Abrams seems to have transitioned into the one giving the speeches, it is no doubt that she still pays close attention to the words and message, telling the Guardian “We need good politicians who actually respect government and understand how all the different pieces work to run.”

Whether you are talking about the “I Have A Dream” Speech or Obama’s Inauguration, speeches have always been at the very heart of the civil rights movement and human rights in general. Leaders like Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, and Barack Obama have long been lauded for their ability to deliver monumental speeches. Hopefully we have helped shine light on the African Americans who write them.

Speeches and Civil Rights: A Broader Lens Part 1

the civil rights movementSpeeches are inherently epic. They are not quite story, nor vision, nor lecture, but a combination of all three, mixed with a healthy dose of theatricality and boundless passion. If you need proof, look no further than Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech. The iconic speech is a highlight of the Civil Rights Movement; the audio is still used as a tentpole for civil rights education today.

But did you know that the speech wasn’t entirely written by the civil rights leader? In fact, the first draft was almost entirely written by two of MLK’s frequent speech writers, Stanley David Levison and Clarence B. Jones.

While this information might be shocking, it is actually a very common and accepted practice for a speech to be written with very little influence from the person delivering it — at least in the earliest stages.

In this two-part series, we will explore the topic of speeches and speechwriting. This first installment will look at what goes into crafting a good speech and later, we will delve into the best African American speech writers, past and present.

Part 1: What Makes a Good Speech?

  1. Structure
    Human beings are pattern seekers. We like to make sense of the whole to have an idea of what is coming next. If a speech doesn’t have the structure to provide this comfort, the structure to lead the listeners to arrive at the same destination, then it will not be successful.
  2. Rhythm
    Rhythm is an important part of any speech. It is, after all, meant to be heard, meant to be listened to. The same rhythms that Shakespeare used in his poetry can make a speech transcend a lecture, creating an experience and fostering a community.
  3. Repetition
    Repetition can help solidify ideas in the minds of the audience. This way, a listening audience can take away the most important parts of the speech. But repetition can be used to harken back to other great speeches or literary works. MLK harkens back to the Bible in his speech, and to the speeches of his contemporaries, giving his audience context and his words gravitas.
  4. Humanity
    One thing that is often overlooked by amateur speechwriters is making a human, emotional appeal to their base. People, in general, don’t like facts — especially ones that don’t align with their own biases. You can talk about the statistics, the fact that in 2015 the average black family was 13 times poorer than a white family, but those numbers will fall on deaf ears. But a father talking about his dream for his four children can touch the hearts of even those with closed minds. It is something that every parent experiences, it is relatable and it is human. There is a reason why the speech is titled I Have a Dream. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew that he needed to make a personal connection if he wanted to reach a broader audience

Then, as in now, it takes a lot of skill to become a speech writer. The second part of this series will highlight the very best African American speechwriters of the Civil Rights Movement and today.