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Florida Pardons Four Black Men Wrongfully Convicted Of Rape In 1949

After 70 years, the state finally decided to clear "The Groveland Four."

The state of Florida is attempting to make amends.

Gov. Ron DeSantis posthumously pardoned Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Earnest Thomas and Charles Greenlee Friday (Jan. 11), decades after the court system destroyed their lives

On July 16, 1949, Shepherd, Irvin, Greenlee and Thomas, known as “The Groveland Four,” were convicted of gang raping a 17-year-old married white woman who claimed that she was attacked on the side of a road in Groveland, Fla.

“For seventy years, these four men have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“As I have said before, while that is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing,” he continued. “I believe the rule of law is society’s sacred bond. When it is trampled, we all suffer. For the Groveland Four, the truth was buried. The Perpetrators celebrated. But justice has cried out from that day until this.”

The accuser, Norma Padgett, and her husband, Willie, claimed that she had been gang raped after their car broke down. There was no evidence to prove that a sexual assault occurred, and prosecutors were accused of manipulating and withholding crucial information in the case.

Irvin and Shepherd, both 22, were friends and World War II veterans. They acknowledged asking the couple if they needed help after spotting them on the side of the road. Greenlee, a 16-year-old newlywed, was “being detained 20 miles away” from the location where the Padgetts claimed the rape occurred. He was at a train station waiting to go job hunting with Thomas when police arrested him. The teen denied that he and Thomas were involved in the alleged rape.

Nonetheless, Irvin, Shepherd and Greenlee were all charged with rape. Thomas, also a newlywed at the time, was “presumed guilty” but fled before police could arrest him. A violent posse of more than 1,000 men went out to search for him. They caught up with Thomas and killed him in a “hail of gunfire” as he slept next to a tree. His death was ruled a justifiable homicide.

The others were arrested and severely beaten by police, subsequently forcing them into false confessions, with the exception of Irvin who maintained his innocence. Another member of the group had his home burned down by an angry mob.

An all-white jury convicted the men of rape and sentenced Irvin and Shepherd to death. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison because he was a minor.

Thurgood Marshall, then an Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, appealed the ruling. A retrial was ordered in April of 1951. Seven months later, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin during a prison transfer. McCall claimed that he gunned them down because they were attempting to escape. Shepherd died instantly.

Irvin survived after being shot in the neck while laying on the ground, handcuffed to Shepherd.

Irvin was refused medical attention because of his race. He was later retried in court, reconvicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison. Irvin was paroled in 1969. He was found dead in his car a year after his release.

Greenlee, the last living member of the four, was paroled in 1960. He died in 2012, at age 78.

Norma Padgett, now 86 years old, opposed the men receiving pardons and maintains her story.

The pardons were approved nearly a year after state legislators issued a resolution urging the governor to move forward with the process. Lawmakers also offered a “heartfelt apology” to the families of Greenlee,  Irvin, Shepherd and Thomas “for the enduring sorrow caused by the criminal justice system’s failure to protect their basic constitutional rights.”

See more on the case below.

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Michigan Judge Refuses To Release Black Teen Jailed For Not Doing School Work

A Michigan judge has refused to release a 15-year-old Black girl who was jailed for failing to complete her online school work. On Monday (July 20), Judge Mary Brennan denied a motion to release the teen who has been locked up at a juvenile facility since May.

According to Pro Publica, the teen’s lawyer argued that she hasn't received adequate education and proper support while in the facility. Judge Brennan believes that the girl has a ways to go before she can be released.

“I think you are exactly where you are supposed to be,” Brennan said. “You are blooming there, but there’s more work to be done.”

During the hourlong hearing, the girl and her mother were allowed to embrace for the first time in months due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This morning for you, respectfully, it is going to get worse before it gets better,” Judge Brennan told the high school sophomore before going through her reported history of bad behavior. “Because I am about over all the crap, all the negative, all the prior attempts at helping I am going through it all.”

Judge Brennan’s husband, attorney Ed Lennon, defended her decision. Lennon claims that the public is being “misled” about why the girl is in juvenile detention, and implied that she is a danger to her mother.

The teen, who has ADHD, was previously arrested for assault and theft after reportedly biting her mother and pulling her hair, along with stealing a fellow student’s cell phone. She was taken into custody after it was determined that she violated her probation by not completing her school work.

In March, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order temporarily suspending juvenile confinement unless the person poses a “substantial and immediate” risk to others.

As many students around the globe are adjusting to at-home learning in wake of the pandemic, some are falling behind in their studies. According to a new report, at least 800,000 students lack access to reliable internet, making it difficult to access to learning materials.

 

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Hanging Death Of Robert Fuller Ruled A Suicide

The hanging death of Robert Fuller has been ruled a suicide, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department announced last Thursday (July 9).

The conclusion was based on evidence at the scene, physical logistics, information from family, lack of evidence ruling out a suicide, and “clinically-documented statements of suicidal intent” made by Fuller years earlier, per a news release from the LASD.

Jason Hicks, an attorney representing Fuller’s family affirmed the results of the investigation. “I don’t have any evidence found to contradict the ruling that his death was a suicide,” Hicks told the press last week.

Members of Fuller’s family  previously alluded to a racist message found beneath his feet, but Hicks reiterated that the incident was not a hate crime. “There were no racist sentiments, no symbols or anything in the area, so we don’t have any information to suggest that it was a hate crime.”

Fuller, 24, was found hanging from a tree outside of City Hall in Palmdale, Calif., last month. His death sparked outrage and protests, and was one of several recent hanging deaths of Black males, including a teen found hanging in front of a Texas elementary school. The Harris County Sheriff's Office said that the death was believed to be a  suicide.

Malcolm Harsch, whose death was confirmed to be a suicide, was found hanging from a tree in Victorville, Calif. in May. Another Black man, 27-year-old Dominique Alexander, was found hanging from a tree in the Bronx on June 9. A petition  has been launched calling for a federal investigation into Alexander's death.

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act To Criminalize Racist 911 Calls

A California lawmaker introduced an ordinance that could criminalize racist 911 calls. San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton presented the CAREN Act during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (July 7).

“Racist calls are unacceptable,” Walton tweeted. “That’s why I’m introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies.

Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that's why I'm introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. #CARENact #sanfrancisco

— Shamann Walton (@shamannwalton) July 7, 2020

The measure is similar to a bill proposed by a New York Senator in 2018, and another proposed by California Assembly member Rob Banta last month to help end “discriminatory 911 calls motivated by an individual’s race, religion, sex, or any other protected class by designating such reports as a hate crime.”

Making a false police report is a criminal misdemeanor offense under California law, but there is currently no legislation criminalizing discriminatory 911 calls.

In related news, a white New Yorker named Amy Cooper could face criminal charges for calling 911 on a birdwatching Black man in Central Park after he informed her that her dog needed to be leashed. Chris Cooper, who has no relation to Amy Cooper, filmed the viral video in May. However, Chris has refused to cooperate with the District Attorney efforts to bring charges against Amy because she “already paid a steep price,” and “Bringing her more misery just seems liking pilling on.”

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