Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt. a leader of the Southern California branch of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s, died in Tanzania on June 3 at the age of 63.
Pratt, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, moved to Los Angeles from rural Louisiana in 1968 and quickly became a leader of the Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1966 by Oakland activists Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and David Hilliard in the aftermath of Malcolm X's assasination and violent clashes between police and African Americans in South Central Los Angeles.
Inspired by liberation struggles of African, Asian, and Latin American counties, the Black Panthers advocated armed self-defense against police abuse. From its base in Oakland, the party grew to a nationwide membership.
The Black Panthers and Pratt specifically were targets of the FBI's notorious counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, whose purpose was to infiltrate, disrupt, and discredit organizations that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI, considered subversive.
The FBI created divisions within the Black Panthers and between the Panthers and other African American organizations.
Pratt was the target of a frame-up for the 1968 killing of a young woman in Santa Monica. He was convicted and spent more than 25 years in prison.
His struggle for a re-trial drew support from Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, members of Congress, and the ACLU.
Pratt was eventually freed after an Orange County judge hearing Pratt's fifth petition to re-open his case ruled that a key witness during Pratt's 1972 trial had committed purjury and was an FBI informant.
In 2000, Pratt received a $4.5 million settlement from the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department for his wrongful imprisionment.
Pratt had been living in Arusha Tanzania for several years and worked with the United African Alliance Community Center, a youth organization.
Robert Taylor, a 62-year-old resident of Torrance and the pastor of Door to Heaven Global Ministries in Inglewood, filed a complaint with the Torrance Police Department over a March 4 incident he believes was racial profiling. Taylor had picked up his 15-year-old daughter from school and was driving in their neighborhood when police stopped him, told him to exit the vehicle, instructed him to raise his hands, and frisked him. Police claim that they stopped the minister because they thought he fit the description of a robbery suspect. But Taylor disputes that reasoning because the suspect was described as a man in his 30s, while he is decades older.
Racial profiling has historic precedents in California. In the early days of statehood, black men were presumed to be runaway slaves. Indians and Latinos were commonly pursued as horse thieves.
But racial profiling became rampant with the onset in the 1980s and 1990s of the "War on Drugs." In 1986, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency rolled out a federally funded highway drug interdiction program known as Operation Pipeline. The program trained officers to make "pretext stops"--pull drivers over for minor traffic violations and search their cars--based on a racially biased profile of drug couriers. Despite the fact that African Americans and Latinos are not any more likely than whites to be carrying drugs or other contraband, they became the main targets of Operation Pipeline.
In 2003, the California Highway Patrol settled a racial profiling lawsuit and prohibited pretext stops and racial profiling.
In the summer of 1963, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other groups demonstrated at the Southwood Rivers housing development in Torrance. They accused Don Wilson, the developer, of excluding African Americans from the neighborhood. Wilson called the police, who arrested protestors for trespassing. Weeks of jostling among the developer, protestors and the city followed. Demonstrators engaged in a "sit-out," blocking the driveway of the tract sales office. The city council passed an ordinance prohibiting individuals from being on the streets surrounding the development at night on weekends. Eventually, CORE agreed to limit demonstrations in the tract to two pickets, one day a week, and the city dropped all charges against the more than 200 protestors.
Alice McGrath, whose lifetime of civil liberties activism began in 1942, died on November 27 in Ventura. As a young woman, McGrath was outraged by the unfair trial of 24 young Mexican American men in what was known as the Sleepy Lagoon murder, the mysterious 1942 death of a young Mexican American in Los Angeles. The judge in the murder trial, the largest mass trial in California history, did not allow the defendants to sit with their attorneys, effectively depriving the young men of their constitutional right to effective counsel. The judge allowed hearsay and other inadmissable evidence against the defendants, but he disallowed testimony that police officers had beaten the young men into making self-incriminating statements. He also made contradictory rulings on the same points of law depending on whether the ruling helped our harmed the prosecution's case.
After 17 of the defendants were convicted of murder and lesser chargers, McGrath became the Executive Secretary of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.
After criticizing the trial judge and stating that there was a lack of evidence for a jury to convict, an appellate court reversed all of the the convictions.
This lesson examines the history of ballot propositions in the struggle for equal rights in California. Students examine the tension between “the voice of the majority” and the defense of minority rights and the role played by the judiciary in protecting the Constitutional rights of minority communities from injustices imposed by majority rule through the ballot initiative process.
On August 29, 2010, the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, an historic anti-Vietnam War march in East Los Angeles that spiraled into violence, the Los Angeles Times reported that its review of LAPD records uncovered conflicts between law enforcement officials and Ruben Salazar, a reporter and Times columnist who was killed during the Moratorium.
Salazar was covering the protest for the Spanish-language television staton KMEX, and was inside the Silver Dollar Cafe when a tear gas canister fired by a sheriff's deputy burst through the window. It hit Salazar ini the head, shattering his brain.
Salazar was one of three people killed during the moratorium. He was deeply mourned. Parks and schools have been named after him, and his death has inspired numerous artworks, including the painting above.
Many in the Chicano community believed his death was not random. He had written passionately about police brutality in East Los Angeles, Mexican American's lack of representation on juries, and unwarranted police surveillance.
Earlier this year, the Times filed a California Public Records Act request seeking the Los Angeles County Sheriff's files on Salazar's killing. Initially Sheriff Lee Baca refused to release any documents. But on August 16, he changed his mind and shared thousands of pages with the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, a civilian agency with oversight over the department.
Baca said that he will publicly share the Office of Independent Review's report on the documents and will then determine whether to release any other material in the department's records on Salazar's death.
A report released by UCLA's Civil Rights Project shows that public schools in California and across the country are racially segregated. The study found that segregation was particularly pronounced in charter schools and especially for African American students in charter schools.
California's schools have been racially segregated, sometimes by law and sometimes by tradition, since the 1850s. In 1874, the state supreme court ruled in Ward v. Flood, a lawsuit on behalf of twelve-year-old Mary Frances Ward to enroll in an all-white San Francisco school, that separate schools for African American children were constitutional. In the follwing decades, the state legislature passed laws requiring the segregation of Asian and Indian students. In 1947, the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court ruling in Mendez v. Westminster that the segregation of Mexican American students was unconstitutional. Soon thereafter, Governor Earl Warren signed a bill repealing all school laws requiring segregation.
Beginning in 1963, the Los Angeles Unified School District was the subject of desegregation litigation that went on for nearly 20 years. In 1970, a superior court judge ruled that the school board's directives amounted to government-sanctioned segregation. The ruling contributed to mandatory busing, which resulted in a backlash, including Proposition 1, a successful 1979 ballot initiative that amended the state constitution freeing school boards from any obligation to desegregate except in cases where it could be proven that the government purposefully segregated students.
African Americans were regularly segregated from San Francisco streetcars in the late 19th century. But two African American women challenged such discrimination, nearly a century before Rosa Parks's similar action spurred the civil rights movement.
Host Michael Krasny talks with Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi about the many unsung heroes of California's past profiled in their book.
Days after a momentous national election, the United State Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The high court will decide a case brought by an Alabama county objecting to a provision of the Voting Right Act requiring certain jurisdictions to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in election laws or voting rules.
The provision of the Voting Rights Act under question is meant to protect the rights of minority voters in areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination.
Although most of the regions covered by Act are in the Southern U.S., Monterey, Yuba, and Kings County in California are also included. In recent years, Latinos in Monterey County cited the Voting Rights Act to delay consolidation of judicial districts and to block the County's move to reduce the number of polling places in a special election.
Advocates who believe that the provision of the Act should be eliminated or changed argue that the racial discrimination which created the need for the provision no longer exists in the states and regions under the provision's requirements.
But within the last year, the Justice Department invoked the Act to block enforcement of voter identification laws in Texas and South Carolina, and to challenge reduction of early voting in Florida. Justice Department officials said that these laws would have a negative impact on African American and Latino voters.