The historic S.H.A.P.E. Community Center was the location for a unique, never-before-held town hall meeting, held on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. For the first time in the history of the United States Attorney’s office for this region, a sitting U.S. Attorney spoke and took questions from members of the Houston community.
U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson, along with representatives from his department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.), came to the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center and fielded tough, hard hitting questions regarding the policies, procedures, criteria and status of the many federal civil rights cases and investigations that are ongoing concerning Houston citizens.
The event was hosted by The Community JustUs Coalition, a collective group of diverse activists, community organizers and concerned citizens that have joined to lead the recent rallies and protests in an effort to address injustices that impact our communities and broader society. This free open forum was set up to allow an opportunity for citizens to speak up about critical issues surrounding the investigation of key police brutality cases and seek out answers to many of their questions and concerns.
COMMUNITY DEMANDS ANSWERS
National Chairman of NBUF, Kofi Taharka helped set the stage by stating it was time out for certain statements such as “under investigation”, “being monitored”, “we’re looking into it”; being told to the people without having a very clear understanding of exactly what those phrases mean. Krystal Muhammad, the Southern Regional Representative of the New Black Panther Party, stated that it was “time for the U.S Attorney and other elected officials to come out of their white ivory towers and come hear from the citizens to whom they are supposed to represent.”
Community members raised numerous concerns and asked several questions that indicated that there is a tremendous lack of trust with the U.S Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the overall legal process. Issues were raised surrounding the status of the current Justice Department investigations, the history of cointelpro, the infiltration of black organizations, the F.B.I.’s recent addition of Assata Shakur to their list of Most Wanted Terrorists list and much more. As the meeting progressed, many in attendance appeared to take issue with what they believed was an extremely dismissive and arrogant attitude coming from U.S. Attorney Magidson. At one point, as Krystal Muhammad took to the microphone to ask a question, Magidson grabbed the microphone from her before she could finish her question. As tensions rose in the room, Southwest Regional Student Minister Robert Muhammad encouraged everyone to remain civil and brought the meeting back to its intended purpose of being an information session for the community.
Although the room was filled to capacity and had reached standing room only status, there were noticeably no mainstream media camera crews or outlets on hand to cover the event. The Houston Forward Times was on hand to cover this never-before-held event. On hand to take part in the event were community organizers such as Quanell X, S.H.A.P.E. Community Center Founder Deloyd Parker, Reverend Ray Martin and a host of others. Also, in attendance were a host of top elected national, state and local officials. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green, State Rep. Boris Miles, State Rep. Harold Dutton, Mayoral candidate Ben Hall and Judge Zinetta Burney. Also present were many candidates for other elected offices.
ONGOING JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INVESTIGATIONS
Since late last year, the U.S. Justice Department has been actively investigating six cases that have occurred in Houston over the last two years in which Houston police officers either allegedly used excessive force against or fatally shot several unarmed individuals.
The Houston Forward Times has written about many of these cases in previous articles. One of the most recent cases involved the September 2012 fatal shooting of Brian Claunch, 45, a mentally ill one-armed, one-legged man in a wheelchair. Two Houston police officers responded to the call and arrived at the scene. One of the two Houston police officers, five-year veteran Officer Matt Marin, entered the home and fatally shot Claunch in the head, saying that he was cornered by Claunch’s wheelchair and he thought his partner was being threatened by what turned out to be a ballpoint pen.
The other fatal shooting federal officials are investigating is the July death of 54-year-old Rufino Lara during an assault investigation. Authorities said Lara failed to follow officers’ commands in English and Spanish to stop and show his hands and that he tried to pull a concealed object from his waistband that turned out to be a can of beer. Two witnesses have said Lara had his hands in the air when he was shot.
The other cases being investigated by the Justice Department include:
- The March 2010 beating of Chad Holley during his burglary arrest. The incident was caught on surveillance video. Four officers were fired and later indicted on various misdemeanor charges. The first officer to be tried was acquitted in May.
- The July 2011 punching of a robbery suspect by ex-police officer Angela Horton. A television crew filming from a helicopter captured Horton punching the 16-year-old suspect in the face after he had been arrested and was handcuffed. Horton was later fired.
- The October 2011 arrest of Anthony Childress, who claims he was beaten by several officers while he was out riding his bicycle. Childress was charged with cocaine possession. No officers were disciplined.
- The January arrests of Annika Lewis and her husband, Sebastian Prevot. Lewis claims she was beaten by police as she tried to record with her cellphone what she described as the brutal arrest of her husband in front of their home. Police say Prevot had failed to pull over during a traffic stop. Lewis was not charged, while Prevot was charged with evading arrest. Two officers were disciplined for not using sound judgment, but they were not relieved of duty.
Prior to the Community JustUs Coalition town hall meeting, the Justice Department had not provided any updates or answers to keep the community informed on the status of these pending investigations. The Houston Forward Times will keep its readers abreast of the status of these ongoing investigations.