NEWS of the Day - March 23, 2012
on some NAACC / LACP issues of interest


NEWS of the Day - March 23, 2012
on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...

We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...


From the L.A. Daily News

Americans say Obama, Congress should do something to control fuel costs

by John Rogers

Families canceling vacations. Fishermen watching their profits burn up along with their boats' gasoline. Drivers buying only a few gallons of gas at a time because they can't afford to fill the tank.

From all corners of the country, Americans are irritated these days by record-high fuel prices that have soared above $4 a gallon in some states and could top $5 by summer. And the cost is becoming a political issue just as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear.

Some blame President Barack Obama. Some just cite "the government," while others believe it's the work of big, greedy oil companies. No matter who is responsible, almost everyone seems to want the government to do something, even if people aren't sure what, exactly, it should or can do.

A Gallup poll this month found 85 percent of U.S. adults believe the president and Congress "should take immediate actions to try to control the rising price of gas." An Associated Press-GfK poll last month showed 71 percent believe gas prices are a "very" or "extremely" important matter.

Chris Kaufman, who spends $120 a week on gas to travel the 60 miles between his two jobs, at the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and at a hotel in Vermillion, S.D., blames the price spike on threats from Iran to cut off oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

"I think the candidates running for president need to take a good hard look at that and determine what their foreign policy is

going to be for countries that threaten to do that," he said. "It's going to affect every single citizen in the United States."

Still, he believes the president has little control over gas prices, adding that it is commodities traders who really dictate prices.

Trucker Cory Nissen of Ruther Glen, Va., agrees.

"The president is nothing but a fall guy," Nissen said as he took a break from his rig at a stop in Wilton, N.Y., earlier this week.

Nissen, who is paid by the mile, said he has seen his paychecks shrink because his employer has cut back delivery runs in reaction to the rising cost of fuel. "It needs to change and change quick," he said. "I got bills I got to pay, and half the time I can't pay them."

On the presidential campaign trail, Mitt Romney called on Obama last weekend to fire his energy secretary, interior secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, dubbing them "the gas-hike trio." Fellow Republican Newt Gingrich promised to roll the price of gas back to $2.50 a gallon if he is elected.

Obama mocked Gingrich's promise, saying, "They start acting like they've got a magic wand and will give you cheap gas forever if you elect us."

Amy Lis of Buffalo, N.Y., and her boyfriend canceled their vacation to Florida this spring in favor of a three-hour drive to Cleveland for an overnight stay and a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even that trip will cost more than $100 in gas.

"It's more than our hotel," she said as she filled up her boyfriend's Ford Ranger pickup.

In truth, there is not a lot the president and Congress can do in the short term to push down gasoline prices. They are tied to oil prices, which have climbed in recent months, pushed by increased consumption from developing nations in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and by concerns about supply disruptions in Iran and elsewhere.

Mike Siroub, who has operated a Union Oil station in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia for 25 years, said customers who used to fill up their tanks now put in just $10 or $20 at a time, telling him that that's all they can afford and that they are driving less or using more fuel-efficient cars.

He himself has joined them.

"I used to have a car with a big V-8 engine," he said. "I traded it for a four-cylinder Toyota Camry."

Among the things the government can do to bring relief to drivers is reduce gasoline taxes or push to get more fuel-efficient cars on the road. The first new fuel standards since 1990 are just now going into effect, and the U.S. auto fleet is more efficient than ever.

People are still feeling the pain.

"When I go out to change the prices, they honk their horns and yell at me," said Siroub whose station's cheapest grade of gas, regular unleaded, was selling for $4.44 a gallon earlier this week. "The other day one person even gave me the finger."

In New York City, some cab drivers say the high cost of gas is prompting them to race through the streets of Manhattan even more recklessly than usual to pick up more passengers during a shift.

"When the gas is up, the money you make is going down," said Less Sylla, who paid $4.17 a gallon earlier this week. "You see a lot of drivers, they're driving, boom-boom-boom, because the lease is too high and it's working on their minds. So that's why they go like that, and it causes a lot of accidents."

Sylla, who said he will vote for Obama, blames greedy oil companies.

In Anchorage, Alaska, general contractor W.M. Lewis said he has had to raises his prices to keep his half-dozen trucks running. "It affects your bottom-line pricing," he said as he put $90.13 worth of gas, at $4.25 a gallon, into one of those trucks.

Milton Walker Jr., whose Louisiana tour company takes vacationers on boat rides through the alligator-infested swamps, said he raised prices last year because of the increased cost of fuel and will do it again if gas hits $5 a gallon. He blames the Federal Reserve, saying it hasn't kept inflation in check.

"I don't think it matters who's president," he said.

Shrimpers in Louisiana and lobstermen in Maine complain that high fuel prices are cutting into their profits. Craig Rogers, who burns through 50 gallons of gas a day tending his lobster traps along Maine's rocky coast, blames commodities traders, though he questions whether politicians are doing enough. He said politicians are too well off to really grasp what ordinary people are going through.

"They can say they feel for us, they can say they understand us, but when you have that kind of money, there's no way you can truly understand what we're feeling," he said.



From the Washington Times

Arrest demand grows in Fla teen's shooting death

by Kyle Hightower - Associated Press

March 23, 2012

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — The investigation into last month's shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in an Orlando suburb is out of the hands of the beleaguered police chief and the county prosecutor with the Justice Department looking at possible civil rights violations and a grand jury perhaps considering charges.

Until admitted shooter George Zimmerman is led away in handcuffs, the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the civil rights activists and others who have rallied for their cause say they won't be satisfied.

"We cannot allow a precedent when a man can just kill one of us ... and then walk out with the murder weapon," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, flanked by Martin's parents and a stage full of supporters at a rally in Sanford on Thursday night. "We don't want good enough. We want George Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back."

Police Chief Bill Lee said earlier in the day that he was stepping down temporarily to try to cool the building anger that his department did not arrest neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman, who has said he shot Martin on Feb. 26 in self-defense. Hours later, the governor announced that the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, had recused himself from the case.

Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, believe Zimmerman should have been arrested. They claim he was profiling their son and acted like a vigilante.

Tracy Martin told the thousands at the rally to keep his son in their minds.

"If Trayvon were here, he would have been here tonight," he said. "He was a people person. Let's get justice for your son."

The signs, chants and sentiments all came down to a demand for justice in the case. Another rally was set for the state capitol Friday and students at Martin's Miami high school planned to walk out in protest in the afternoon.

At Thursday's protest, some people carried signs that said: "100 years of lynching, justifiable homicide. Same thing." Others sold T-shirts that read: "Arrest Zimmerman."

"It's the norm around here, where anything involving black culture, they want to wipe their hands of it," said Shella Moore, who is black and grew up in Sanford.

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor before he quit the case convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.

Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.

Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle. Police say the 28-year-old Zimmerman is white; his family says he's Hispanic.

The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department in this Orlando suburb for not making an arrest. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified. Of Sanford's 53,000 residents, 57 percent are white and 30 percent are black.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, state attorney Wolfinger said that while he thought he could fairly oversee any prosecution that develops in the case, his recusal was aimed at "toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of the investigation." Scott appointed Angela B. Corey, the state attorney for the Jacksonville area, to take over.

The chief's decision came less than a day after city commissioners gave him a "no confidence" vote and after a couple of weeks of protests and uproar on social media websites. Lee has said evidence supported Zimmerman's assertion that the shooting was in self-defense.

"I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks," Lee said.

The chief said he stood behind his agency's investigation.

"As a former homicide investigator, a career law enforcement officer and a father, I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child. I'm also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," Lee said.

Martin's parents said the police chief's action wasn't enough, and that Zimmerman should be taken into custody.

"We want an arrest, we want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of my son," Martin's father, Tracy, said to the fiery crowd of protesters at Fort Mellon Park.

It wasn't immediately clear how long the police chief would step aside. Some people said he should just quit.

"If they wanted to defuse a potential powder keg, he needed to resign," said pastor Eugene Walton, 58, who was born and raised in Sanford. "His inaction speaks loudly to the black community."

News of the police chief's decision to step aside spread quickly among the protesters, many of whom showed up more than two hours before the start of the rally. They chanted "The chief is gone. Zimmerman is next."

Dick Gregory, a comedian who uses humor to convey his civil rights message, said the steady pressure should be the goal going forward.

"All you have to do is be a turtle," he said. "Hard on the outside, soft on the inside and willing to stick your neck out."



‘Stand Your Ground Law' at center of Fla. shooting

MIAMI — Florida is among 21 states with a "Stand Your Ground Law," which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. The self-defense law helps explain why a neighborhood watch captain has not been arrested in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager.

The Florida law lets police officers on the scene decide whether they believe the self-defense claim. In many cases, the officer's defer to making the arrest, letting the courts work out whether the deadly force is justified. In this case, however, police have said they are confident they did the right thing by not charging 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic.

The shooting's racial overtones have sparked a national outcry and debate over whether the shooting was warranted. And like many self-defense cases, two sides of the story have emerged.

Zimmerman told police he was attacked by 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after he had given up chasing the boy and he was returning to his truck. He had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head, according to police. Martin's family questions Zimmerman's story, and believes if their races were reversed, there is no doubt a black shooter would be jailed, even if he claimed self-defense.

"They are making it look like Zimmerman is the victim and their son is in the grave," said Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin's parents. "It's about equal justice."

The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and the local prosecutor has convened a grand jury April 10 to determine whether to charge Zimmerman.

Based on what's publicly known about the case, Michael Siegel, a former federal prosecutor who now directs the Criminal Justice Center and Clinics at the University of Florida law school, said it appears Sanford police were too quick to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged. If the evidence is murky, he said the usual practice is to make the arrest and let the court system sort it out.

"The law has definitely shifted and given a signal to law enforcement to be more careful," he said. "But in a case where the self-defense claim is weak, you would think they would do their job."

In a statement released Wednesday, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee insisted his officers were "prohibited from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time," including physical evidence that supported Zimmerman's self-defense claim.

"The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident," Lee said, adding that it's now up to prosecutors to determine whether to bring charges.

Late Wednesday, commissioners in Sanford, a city of 53,000 people outside Orlando that is 57 percent white and 30 percent black, voted 3-2 to express "no confidence" in the police chief.

Under the National Rifle Association-backed Florida law passed in 2005, Florida, unlike most other states, grants immunity from prosecution or arrest to suspects who successfully invoke the "stand your ground" claim. And if a suspect is arrested and charged, a judge can throw out the case well before trial based on a self-defense claim.

That happened Wednesday in an unrelated case. A Miami judge dismissed a second-degree murder case, citing the Stand Your Ground law and ruling that 25-year-old Greyston Garcia's testimony about self-defense was credible. The Miami Herald reported that Garcia was charged after chasing down and stabbing to death a 26-year-old suspected burglar in January.

Still, it's not enough for Zimmerman or anyone involved in a confrontation to simply claim innocence based on no duty to retreat, said Fordham University law professor Nicholas Johnson.

"By the Florida law, he is not relieved of the traditional and basic requirement of showing that he fairly perceived an imminent deadly threat," Johnson said.

Crump, the Martin family attorney, said the teenager weighed about 140 pounds and was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea he had bought at a nearby convenience store when Zimmerman began following him in his sport utility vehicle. Zimmerman, meanwhile, weighs around 200 pounds and was armed with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, which he had a permit to legally carry.

"So the facts that have come out that I have become aware of, would tend to indicate he should not be granted immunity," Roger Weeden, an Orlando defense attorney closely following the case, said of Zimmerman.

State figures indicate that justified use of deadly force by private citizens is on the upswing.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics show that before the law was enacted in 2005, there were about 13 justified killings each year by citizens from 2000 to 2005. Between 2006 and 2010, the average has risen to 36 justified killings each year.

Some state lawmakers are already questioning whether the law should be revisited.

State Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said he is preparing a bill that would not allow a self-defense claim in cases where the shooter appeared to provoke the victim. That could have be a factor in the Martin case, where 911 calls and other evidence shows that Zimmerman was following the teenager in his vehicle and approached him aggressively despite specific instructions from police to back off.

"Stand your ground appears to be giving suspects better protections from arrest and prosecution than increased security measures for the citizens the law was originally intended to protect," said Smith, whose bill would also limit legal use of lethal force to places such as a person's home, car or workplace.

Lee, the police chief, said in a statement that the police dispatcher's "suggestion" to Zimmerman that he did not need to follow Martin "is not a lawful order that Mr. Zimmermann would be required to follow."

"Mr. Zimmerman's statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon," Lee said.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who was elected after the law's passage, said he's open to suggestions if the Martin case illustrates problems with it.

"If there's something wrong with the law that's in place, I think it's important we address it," Scott said Tuesday. "If what's happening is it's being abused, that's not right."



Figures point to securer border, but risk of death for illegals still high

by Stephen Dinan

TUCSON, Ariz. — Amid all of the apparently good news about security along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, one dark spot stands out: The number of people dying in the desert as they attempt to make illegal crossings remains stubbornly high.

It's a figure that worries and puzzles both humanitarian aid groups and organizations that want to see a crackdown on illegal immigration.

For some, it calls into question the Border Patrol's own arrest figures, while for others it suggests agents are doing their job too well, and the heavier security is pushing illegal immigrants into ever-more remote areas — which means each illegal crosser faces a greater chance of dying.

"If most Americans were to watch on TV that there was some country where every year at least 200 to 500 remains are being found in these horrible deaths, dying in these horrible ways, we'd think that's barbaric," said Kat Rodriguez, program director at the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, which keeps statistics on such deaths.

"But the reality is, that's happening in the U.S. These people are dying, and there's a connection between these deaths and our policies," she said.

Indeed, the death rate — which Ms. Rodriguez defines as the number of bodies found per 100,000 illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol — has skyrocketed.

In 2004, the Border Patrol apprehended 589,831 illegal immigrants in the two sectors that comprise Arizona's border with Mexico. That same year, Derechos Humanos reported 234 deaths, for a rate of about 40 deaths per 100,000 apprehensions.

Last year, apprehensions in those two sectors dropped to 129,118 illegal immigrants. But 183 bodies were recovered, for a death rate of more than 140 per 100,000 apprehensions.

Calculating life and death

One of the chief problems with the immigration debate is that nobody knows how many illegal immigrants are in the U.S., nor how many try to cross the border each year.

The best authorities can do is point to the number of crossers apprehended each year by the Border Patrol. Officials used to use a rule of thumb that for every person apprehended, another three or four successfully evaded capture and made it through.

The recent decline in apprehensions would suggest fewer people are trying to enter the U.S.

But the fact that deaths have remained high could mean that traffic has shifted to different areas, but remains steady.

Still, the drop in apprehensions must mean something positive on the border, said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration enforcement and lower limits.

"It seems pretty clear that the number of people trying to cross the border is down significantly," he said. "Quantifying it is very hard. But that doesn't mean the change we've seen does not reflect an underlying change."

The border makes for an extraordinary laboratory to study cause and effect.

Smugglers study the security situation and quickly adjust. New fencing and stepped-up enforcement in California in the 1990s pushed the flow of people and drugs into Arizona, and stronger enforcement near the border towns there pushed the illegal activity out into remote federal lands, such as Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge or the Coronado National Forest.

That seemed to lead to a spike in deaths about a decade ago, and the rate has remained high ever since, peaking at 282 deaths, according to Derechos Humanos. The Arizona Star, a daily paper based in Tucson, has its own count, which differs slightly when compared year to year, but follows the same trend.

Better security

The security situation improved as the Border Patrol began to pour manpower and resources into Arizona, first under the Bush administration and continuing under President Obama.

Fencing or vehicle barriers now rule along much of the state's border, and technology has helped speed the Border Patrol's ability to detect and react to incursions.

That has led the Obama administration to declare the border more secure than at any other time in recent history.

The Border Patrol's leaders on the ground say the improvements have been dramatic.

"There's a lot of debate on the state of the border. [People] that have been out here before [know], it's a night-and-day comparison to what the border was," said Manuel Padilla Jr., deputy chief agent for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector.

With apprehensions down, the Border Patrol last year decided it was time to focus on trying to reduce the death rate. Officials began to run public service announcements and conduct press interviews in countries that send the most illegal immigrants across the border, warning of the hardships of making such a crossing.

"We started bringing in the consular officers from those countries. That was the biggest push on this, because they actually helped us frame the message that would have the biggest impact into those states and into those countries," Chief Padilla said.

Some ads warned of the dangers of violence, but consular officials told the Border Patrol that message didn't play as well in places such as El Salvador because violence isn't out of the norm in their home countries. The pitch to those countries was changed to focus instead on the harshness of the terrain and the chance of getting lost or left behind, Chief Padilla said.

He said they are seeing some signals that the situation is improving.

The Tucson sector, which includes most of Arizona's border, recorded 69 bodies from Oct. 1 through early March. But Chief Padilla said 53 of those were skeletal remains, which suggests those migrants died at least two or three years ago.

Cold storage

Behind every body found, there is a human story. In most cases, it's up to Dr. Gregory L. Hess and his colleagues at the Pima County Medical Examiner's office to try to identify the body and, if possible, return the remains to the person's family.

From 2001 through 2010, the office took custody of remains of 1,915 migrants and made identifications in 1,146 cases.

The bodies come in four states: intact, fresh bodies; decomposed bodies; mummified remains; and skeletal remains.

For the first two categories, examiners conduct autopsies, try to identify tattoos or scars, take fingerprints and document clothes, all of which can help with identifying the victims. In the case of mummified or skeletal remains, an anthropologist gets involved to try to determine basic details such as sex, age, ethnicity and whether trauma was involved.

Overcrowding in the county's storage facility has become so bad that it has made national headlines. In 2005, the county bought space for an additional 142 remains, to reach a capacity of 262 full-sized bodies. During summer months, though, when migrant deaths spike, refrigerated trucks have had to be brought in to add space.

At any time, about 100 of the bodies in storage are of migrants, who are often tougher to identify and return to families — or if no identification is possible, to clear for cremation.

"This county, this office, have struggled for a while with how best to move these remains in a timely manner," Dr. Hess said.

In 2005, the county invested in another cooler, and more recently it imposed a $75-a-day fee on other jurisdictions that leave their remains with Pima County. Dr. Hess said the fee has gone a long way toward prodding those other locales to make faster decisions about how to dispose of remains.

Like Chief Padilla, Dr. Hess said he senses there has been an increase in the ratio of skeletal remains to other bodies, which would suggest fewer fresh bodies — and possibly fewer deaths.

Dr. Hess said that even if nobody crossed the deserts, skeletal remains still would be found from those who died in earlier attempts. But for now, people are still crossing, and dying.

"We're planning on the same kind of summer we've had for years," said Dr. Hess. "We're anticipating a lot of bodies in June, July, August. The summer that changes, we're likely to notice."



From Google News

Thousands call for 'justice' at Trayvon Martin rally

Gov. Rick Scott removes Seminole state attorney, appoints special prosecutor

If Sanford city officials thought the police chief's departure would calm tempers arising from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Thursday night's rally in the teenager's honor proved them wrong.

As speaker after speaker took the stage at a downtown park, they made one thing clear: They want George Zimmerman, the man who said he shot the 17-year-old, arrested, and they won't settle for anything less.

"I pledge I will not let my son die in vain!" Martin's father, Tracy Martin, told a cheering crowd of several thousand after being introduced by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"We want to see Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back, charged with the death of this young man, Trayvon Martin!" said Sharpton, who organized the rally and flew to Sanford earlier in the day despite learning of his mother's death that morning in Alabama. Sharpton said his mother, who was 89 and suffered from Alzheimer's, would have wanted him to be there.

Sharpton, an MSNBC commentator, civil-rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, took the podium nearly an hour into the rally and stirred the crowd.

"Twenty-six days ago, this young man Trayvon Martin ... went to the store for his brother. He came back and lost his life," Sharpton told the cheering crowd. "Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives."

Sharpton said he was angry at the handling of this case, and frustrated that George Zimmerman, the crime-watch volunteer who shot Trayvon, had not been arrested.

"Enough is enough," Sharpton said. "Zimmerman should have been arrested that night. You cannot defend yourself against a pack of Skittles and iced tea."

Sharpton then introduced Trayvon's parents: his mother, Sybrina Fulton, and father, Tracy Martin.

Fighting back tears, and looking scared and nervous, Fulton started with a Bible verse.

"I stand before you today not knowing how I'm walking right now because my heart hurts for my son," Fulton said. "Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son. Thanks so much for your support."

Tracy Martin described his son as a "people's person" who did not deserve to die.

Then Sharpton pressed the crowd to raise money for Trayvon's cause.

"I'm going to start off with $2,500," Sharpton said, holding up a check. "Who's next?"

Then Sharpton announced that television personality Judge Greg Mathis donated $10,000.

Several elected Florida officials were present, and each took a turn addressing the crowd before Sharpton was scheduled to speak. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was one of the first to address the crowd Thursday night. She rallied the crowd by yelling, "I want an arrest, I want a trial."

The she asked the crowd: "What do you want?"

And the crowd responded, "We want an arrest!"

The rally began hours after Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. made the surprising announcement that he was stepping down "temporarily." Lee said he had become a distraction as the city deals with the turmoil arising from Martin's death, which has sparked allegations of police racism for officers' failure to arrest Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he acted in self-defense. Martin was black; Zimmerman's father says he is Latino.

The gathering had been scheduled for a church that holds a few hundred people, but on Thursday afternoon, officials shifted the location to Fort Mellon Park, fearing the church wouldn't be big enough. They were right. By 8 p.m., the sidewalks, streets and the walkway skirting the shores of Lake Monroe were crammed with several thousand people, many carrying signs calling for justice for Martin, who was shot to death Feb. 26 as he walked through a gated community to a relative's home after buying a package of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea.

Zimmerman, who had called police dozens of times between January 2011 and Feb. 26, reported Martin as a suspicious person and got out of his truck while talking to the police operator. A lawyer representing Martin's family has said the teen told his girlfriend by cellphone that he was being followed moments before he was shot. Martin was unarmed. Witnesses reported hearing someone cry for help before the gunshot rang out.

Thursday night's scene featured a bit of everything. There were white people, black people, elderly couples, children in strollers and dogs on leashes. T-shirt sellers were getting $10 for shirts with Zimmerman's picture below a huge "WANTED" sign. Other T-shirts read, "I am Trayvon Martin," underscoring the theme of many speakers' comments that anybody could fall victim to a bullet if confronted by someone carrying a loaded gun and claiming self-defense.

"Trayvon is my son. Trayvon is your son," his mother, Sybrina Fulton, said in a shaky voice as she fought back tears.

One thing missing from the rally was a police presence, except on streets a few blocks away where officers were directing traffic. Instead, to alleviate tensions and prevent possible flare-ups between the crowd and city police, sheriff's deputies provided security.

Still, the animosity that many in the crowd felt toward Sanford officials was clear in the muted reaction to Mayor Jeff Triplett, who has defended Lee against allegations that he oversaw a shoddy investigation permitting Zimmerman to remain free. There were catcalls and only a scattering of applause as Triplett, looking pained, took the stage and insisted that as the father of two young children, he shared the city's heavy heart.

"The true point is to find justice," he said. "And I've made a promise … that I won't stop until we find that."

Regina Hollis, watching the rally from a lawn chair near the back of the crowd, said only time and prayer would help the city recover from the incident -- the second in less than a year that has involved an attack on a black man and forced the ouster of a police chief. Hollis, who is black, said she did not feel she had suffered from blatant racism in Sanford.

But she said she came to the rally because she knew that her 17-year-old daughter, or anyone else, could become a victim if they crossed the wrong person.

"It could happen again tomorrow," she said as the crowd began to slowly disperse about 2 ½ hours after the rally began. "It could happen again next week."

Trayvon's father: 'It's tough'

Earlier Thursday, Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, spoke with the Orlando Sentinel in the gated community where his son was shot to death Feb. 26.

"I'm trying to hold everyone together; it's tough," Martin said. His last conversation with Trayvon, he said, was about whether the teen had enough money for pizza.

Martin said Sanford police told him they would walk him through the crime scene but never did. On Wednesday, the bereaved father walked the path Trayvon may have taken the night he was shot.

Martin said this will all be over when Zimmerman is sentenced "for the crime he committed to Trayvon Martin."

"He took a life," Martin said. "He took my son's life, and he needs to punished in a court of law for what he did."

Martin said of the groundswell of support has helped his family because it shows the nation stands behind them and against injustice.

At midday Thursday, the New Black Panther Party protested the killing of Trayvon by gathering outside the Sanford Police Department and drew about 40 onlookers. The small but vocal group demonstrated for about an hour, renewing its call for police to arrest the shooter, 28-year-old Zimmerman.

"We don't hate anyone — we hate injustice," said leader Mikhail Muhammad.

Busloads from Atlanta

Several packed buses departed Atlanta-area churches to make their way to Central Florida after local radio personality Derrick Boazman sounded the rally cry through his influential talk show.

Boazman said he received hundreds of calls from listeners who broke down in tears and sobs live on the air, demanding someone coordinate transportation to Sanford.

He organized a few buses and a caravan of other vehicles that left First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday morning carrying more than 200 people. They held a prayer vigil and rally before departing.

"It's been like going through the loss of a family member. You can hear the grieving in their voices. You hear the pain of the heart, and it comes from everyone," Boazman said from aboard a bus in transit. "We saw this young brother [Trayvon] reduced to almost a noncitizen and see a government that reduced his humanity and abandoned him."

Boazman said he was touched when a grandmother called his show, saying she had a 17-year-old grandson and "needed to get to Florida" to answer Trayvon's cry for help heard on 911 tapes.

It is still unclear whether it was Trayvon's or George Zimmerman's voice on the tapes.

"We just don't understand how this could be," said Pastor Timothy McDonald of First Iconium. "I'm encouraged by the attention, but it's supposed to get results, and we haven't gotten that."

Oviedo resident Dorothea Hamilton said she would attend the Sharpton rally in Sanford because Trayvon's death has brought this issue disturbingly close to home.

"I have a grandson who is about 20 years old, and I would really be afraid to bring him into this county knowing [what could happen] here," she said. "I wouldn't be able to face my son and his wife again if anything happened to my grandbaby."



Docs show NYPD infiltrated liberal groups

(AP) NEW YORK - Undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities.

The infiltration echoes the tactics the NYPD used in the run-up to New York's 2004 Republican National Convention, when police monitored church groups, anti-war organizations and environmental advocates nationwide. That effort was revealed by The New York Times in 2007 and in an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit over how the NYPD treated convention protesters.

Police said the pre-convention spying was necessary to prepare for the huge, raucous crowds that were headed to the city. But documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the police department's intelligence unit continued to keep close watch on political groups in 2008, long after the convention had passed.

In April 2008, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People's Summit, a gathering of liberal groups organized around their shared opposition to U.S. economic policy and the effect of trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

When the undercover effort was summarized for supervisors, it identified groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy, labor laws and racial profiling. Two activists — Jordan Flaherty, a journalist, and Marisa Franco, a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies — were mentioned by name in one of the police intelligence reports obtained by the AP.

"One workshop was led by Jordan Flaherty, former member of the International Solidarity Movement Chapter in New York City," officers wrote in an April 25, 2008, memo to David Cohen, the NYPD's top intelligence officer. "Mr. Flaherty is an editor and journalist of the Left Turn Magazine and was one of the main organizers of the conference. Mr. Flaherty held a discussion calling for the increase of the divestment campaign of Israel and mentioned two events related to Palestine."

The document is available here.

The document provides the latest example of how, in the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies around the country have scrutinized groups that legally oppose government policies. The FBI, for instance, has collected information on anti-war demonstrators. The Maryland state police infiltrated meetings of anti-death penalty groups. Missouri counterterrorism analysts suggested that support for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, might indicate support for violent militias — an assertion for which state officials later apologized. And Texas officials urged authorities to monitor lobbying efforts by pro Muslim-groups.

Police have good reason to want to know what to expect when protesters take to the streets. Many big cities, such as Seattle in 1999, Cincinnati in 2001 and Toledo in 2005, have seen protests turned into violent, destructive riots. Intelligence from undercover officers gives police an idea of what to expect and lets them plan accordingly.

"There was no political surveillance," Cohen testified in the ongoing lawsuit over NYPD's handling of protesters at the Republican convention. "This was a program designed to determine in advance the likelihood of unlawful activity or acts of violence."

The result of those efforts, however, was that people and organizations can be cataloged in police files for discussing political topics or advocating even legal protests, not violence or criminal activity.

By contrast, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in related protests in other cities, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based simply on protest activities.

"Occupy Wall Street-type protesters mostly are engaged in constitutionally protected activity," department officials wrote in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the website Gawker. "We maintain our longstanding position that DHS should not report on activities when the basis for reporting is political speech."

At the NYPD, the monitoring was carried out by the Intelligence Division, a squad that operates with nearly no outside oversight and is so secretive that police said even its organizational chart is too sensitive to publish. The division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the NYPD monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons.

The AP left phone messages with Cohen and two NYPD press officers last week seeking comment about the undercover operation in New Orleans. They did not return the calls.

The NYPD has defended its efforts, saying the threat of terrorism means officers cannot wait to open an investigation until a crime is committed. Under rules governing NYPD investigations, officers are allowed to go anywhere the public can go and can prepare reports for "operational planning."

Though the NYPD's infiltration of political groups before the 2004 convention generated some controversy and has become an element in a lawsuit over the arrest, fingerprinting and detention of protesters, the surveillance itself has not been challenged in court.

Flaherty, who also writes for The Huffington Post, said he was not an organizer of the summit, as police wrote in the NYPD report. He said the event described by police actually was a film festival in New Orleans that same week, suggesting that the undercover officer's duties were more widespread than described in the report.

Flaherty said he recalls introducing a film about Palestinians but spoke only briefly and does not understand why that landed him a reference in police files.

"The only threat was the threat of ideas," he said. "I think this idea of secret police following you around is terrifying. It really has an effect of spreading fear and squashing dissent."

Before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, infiltrating political groups was one of the most tightly controlled powers the NYPD could use. Such investigations were restricted by a longstanding court order in a lawsuit over the NYPD's spying on protest groups in the 1960s.

After the attacks, Cohen told a federal judge that, to keep the city safe, police must be allowed to open investigations before there's evidence of a crime. A federal judge agreed and relaxed the rules.

Since then, police have monitored not only suspected terrorists but also entire Muslim neighborhoods, mosques, restaurants and law-abiding protesters.

Keeping tabs on planned demonstrations is a key function of Cohen's division. Investigators with his Cyber Intelligence Unit monitor websites of activist groups, and undercover officers put themselves on email distribution lists for upcoming events. Plainclothes officers collect fliers on public demonstrations. Officers and informants infiltrate the groups and attend rallies, parades and marches.

Intelligence analysts take all this information and distill it into summaries for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's daily briefing, documents show.

The April 2008 memo offers an unusually candid view of how political monitoring fit into the NYPD's larger, post-9/11 intelligence mission. As the AP has reported previously, Cohen's unit has transformed the NYPD into one of the most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies in the United States, one that infiltrated Muslim student groups, monitored their websites and used informants as listening posts inside mosques.

Along with the political monitoring, the document describes plans to use informants to monitor mosques for conversations about the imminent verdict in the trial of three NYPD officers charged in the 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell, an unarmed man who died in a hail of gunfire. Police were worried about how the black community, particularly the New Black Panther Party, would respond to the verdict, according to this and other documents obtained by the AP.

The document also contained details of a whitewater rafting trip that an undercover officer attended with Muslim students from City College New York.

"The group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature," the report reads.

Eugene Puryear, 26, an activist who attended the New Orleans summit, said he was not surprised to learn that police were monitoring it. He said it was entirely peaceful, a way to connect community organizers around the issues of racism and the rights of the poor. But he described it as a challenge to corporate power and said the NYPD probably felt threatened by it.

"From their perspective, they need to spy on peaceful groups so they're not effective at putting out their peaceful message," he said. "They are threatened by anything challenging the status quo."




After Trayvon Martin: A Look at Hoco Neighborhood Watch

In the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, Howard County takes another look at community policing programs.

by Brandie Jefferson

The premise behind Neighborhood Watch is simple.

“Neighbors working in conjunction with law enforcement are the eyes and ears of their community,” said Pat Sill, president of the Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute, which trains law enforcement and community policing organizations.

“If they see something suspicious they report it,” she said of Neighborhood Watch volunteers. “They're not to be anything more than eyes and ears.”

In the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, allegedly at the hands of a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, officials in Howard County may be taking another look at how community-policing organizations are operating.

“It always bears looking at when you have any incident,” said C. Vernon Gray, administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights. He spoke with County Executive Ken Ulman and Police Chief William McMahon in the wake of Martin's death to revisit the operations of the local Neighborhood Watch programs.

M artin's death has led to a surge of public criticism, much of it expressed on social media. According to the Sun-Sentinel, The Department of Justice, the FBI and the Florida State Attorney's Office are all investigating the shooting.

George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, allegedly shot Martin on Feb. 26 as the teenager was returning to his father's house from a convenience store. Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged with any crime according to reports. Read comprehensive coverage of the incident and its impact on the Sun-Sentinel 's website.

In Howard County, Neighborhood Watch programs work “pretty nicely,” Gray said. “I know on my street … people don't go out in a vigilante fashion. If they notice anything suspicious, they will call police or notify neighbors."

Vigilantism is one of the reasons Howard County Police Community Liaison Bonita Linkins said she does not support neighborhood “patrols,” in which residents take a more active role, patrolling neighborhoods instead of simply observing.

At a January meeting with residents of the Bethgate neighborhood, Linkins told those concerned about a rash of break-ins that patrols can lead to trouble. Once incident, she recalled, “turned into a vigilante-type circumstance … It turned into a physical assault situation.”

There are several key differences between Maryland and Florida laws, particularly Florida's “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which is being called into question by local lawmakers, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The law permits the use of deadly force if a person “reasonably believes” his or her life, or someone else's life is threatened.

Maryland has no such law, though SB411 allows residents to defend themselves with force in their homes or places of business.

And firearms are difficult to come by in Maryland – it is up to local authorities to approve or deny an individual's request for a permit although, according to the Baltimore Sun , a recent federal ruling may make it easier for residents to obtain firearms.

Neither Ulman nor Sill could say whether an individual with a concealed weapons permit is allowed to carry that weapon while participating in a Neighborhood Watch program, which is not administered by the police department.

“That's something that I want to revisit and make sure that we are square on that,” Ulman said at a meeting Wednesday with the police chief's Citizen's Advisory Council.

"As far as weapons and that kind of thing, I don't know that it's anything that's specifically ever talked about,” Sill said.

“It's eyes and ears, simply that.”