Monday, September 3, 2012

The Annexation Of My Home

Back in the day when getting drunk still constituted an integral part of my idea of a good time, (i.e that period of time between shortly after birth and right this minute,) I happened to discover that getting drunk at night made good times even better. 

In addition, I also observed that drinking at night in the company of friends increased the incidence of fun almost exponentially.

And the beauty of it was, it never involved too much of a hassle. At that time, all there was to it was getting hold of a reasonable amount of cash, getting hold of the guys and voila! You were set for an evening of boy fun, bonding and, sometimes just for the heck of it, limited escapades of the erotic kind. All in all, it was maximum returns for limited input, and for a few short hours every week, we could just drop out of circulation without having to notify anyone and enjoy some priceless quality time with the crew.

Such was the trend of my life until one time in a moment of pure insanity; I made a profound, but in view of the uncontrollability of the emotions involved, very inevitable mistake. I became a sucker for some silly feelings the looks and bearing of a certain female invoked in me....

...and like a certified idiot, stupidly invited her to be a part of the general set-up of my life. 

At the time it seemed like a pretty good idea, but all bad ideas, it must be remembered, start life as pretty good ideas. This was no exception, and in no time flat I was already wondering why the hell I hadn't put stock on our MPs' commitment to having their allowances taxed while I was at it.

How bad an idea it was came fully home when slowly but with a regularity that was almost terrifying, I started noticing curtails to my freedom that I'd hitherto never had to deal with when I was still single. In other words, whereas previously I’d held the inalienable right to do whatever I pleased in whichever way that pleased me within the confines of my walls, I increasingly noticed that although theoretically I was still the boss of my crib, theory was just about how far it got. For example:

1. My Nintendo lost its prime, convenient location beside the TV to a potted plant that my new girlfriend came along with, apparently for aesthetic improvement of the TV area. When I very logically posited that whatever aesthetical value someone might seek from a TV area would likely derive more from what beamed out from the TV than from an item of bottled vegetation that stood beside it, my argument was given the kind of consideration You would likely reserve for statements from particularly dim-witted politicians before being summarily dismissed, and the potted plant stayed.

2. Next to go was the bathroom, which succumbed to a barrage of every cosmetic known to man. 

3. It was closely followed by the toilet, which was sacked by a new law that made the replacement of the toilet seat after use mandatory, something I was quite admittedly not used to.

4. Clearly marked compartments in the closet for the different genres of clothing, compliance with which conjugal privileges were subtly attached, then put to rest whatever lingering doubts that may have existed as to who really was in charge of the bedroom. 

5. As for the kitchen, I never even had authority there when I was still in joyous bachelorhood, so that was lost without a single shot being fired.

But much as I found the annexation of my abode distasteful at the very least, I nevertheless put up with it because for some inexplicable reason borne out of the most incredible naivety, I actually believed co-habiting with my girlfriend was a cool thing to do. Oh, the torture men can endure when they think they are in love!

However, there are lines that any man conversant with the Brothers’ Code will never cross, and I finally got to that line when my girlfriend, not content with subduing me inside my own house, extended her campaign to include what I did outside the house. 

At first, it was seemingly innocent inquiries into the details of my Saturday nights out with the guys, which stealthily mutated into what amounted to background checks on the members of my clique. This steadily devolved to veiled attacks on the character of my friends she didn't approve of, and finally, the gloves came off and she actually demanded that I cut off links with a couple of my childhood bosom buddies, or call it quits with her.

Some things you just don't ask a guy to do unless you carried him in your womb for nine months and raised him and even then, your right to make such demands of him ends from the very second he joins high school. 

Well, this girl didn't share a single characteristic with my mother, and the last time I saw the inside of a high school classroom, KANU still had enough seats in parliament to form a government.

Well, I it was a choice between freedom and bondage. A no brainer, really, which choice I made!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Islamic Leadership In Kenya

Late in the morning on Monday 27th August 2012, Sheikh Aboud Rogo was driving along a Mombasa highway when another vehicle, which had reportedly been trailing him for a while, pulled up alongside him. The intentions of the occupant or occupants of this other vehicle were apparently not good, and whoever it was, he or they were in possession of genuine, loaded firearms.

And as would happen in a situation whereby an armed person or persons with ill intentions towards another person pulls up alongside the person he or they harbors ill intentions towards, the occupant or occupants of the other vehicle aimed the firearm or  firearms in the general direction of Sheikh Rogo's vehicle and then proceeded to introduce twenty-two bullets into his anatomy.

The outcome, of course, was what you would expect of a person who has just had twenty-two bullets introduced into their anatomy.

Sheikh Rogo was well known at the Kenyan Coast and extremely popular for his fiery rhetoric and radical Islamist ideology. He was also suspected of very serious links to adherents of a very radical brand of Islam, and numerous international anti-terror institutions and operatives had either linked him to or suggested his complicity in some of the most devastating terrorist attacks to have hit Kenya for the past decade.

In other words, Sheikh Rogo wasn't your regular run-in-the-mill benevolent Sheikh urging believers to feed the poor, fast during Ramadhan and pray five times a day. This was the kind of cleric who gave speeches that made young zealous admirers reach for the nearest machete and run off to find themselves an infidel, real or imagined, to behead.

Thus it goes without question that when news of the fiery cleric's interaction with twenty-two bullets reached the ears of his young, zealous admirers, they were bound to experience the kind of emotions that usually result in public gatherings that have police thinking about batons, water hoses, rubber bullets and relevant sections of the Penal Code that deal with unlawful assembly. And experience these emotions Sheikh Rogo's young, zealous admirers did, in levels usually associated with people who have ingested copious amounts of very potent pharmaceuticals.

First, they stormed the murder scene and forcibly took Sheikh Rogo's body from the police who had arrived to launch investigations. Then after they had hastily laid the Sheikh to rest and declared him a martyr, they picked up all manners of projectiles they could lay their hands on and went out with the sole intention of laying to waste any infidel installation insufficiently guarded.

And for the next two days, Mombasa burned.

In the middle of all this, the Muslim leadership in Kenya displayed the kind of leadership you would expect from a six year-old prefect of an unruly nursery school class. Very few notable leaders came forward to condemn the senseless destruction that was rendering Kenya's premier tourist destination inhospitable until the government intervened and asked them to do so, and some of the Muslim commentators who spoke to the press at the height of the insanity seemed to actually give tacit approval to the rioting mobs.

Finally on Wednesday 29th August, there came a semblance of condemnation as leaders from the National Muslim Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) called a press conference some four hundred miles away at the Laico Regency in Nairobi to ostensibly call for peace. "This is not a war of Muslims against Christians. It is a war against crime." Convenor and Mvita MP Najib Balala said at the press conference, urging the rioting Muslims not to burn churches.

But if anyone thought this was going to be an all-out rhetoric offensive against the riots, they were sadly mistaken as the Muslim leaders instead tore into the Police Department and other state organs, accusing them of working in concert with the United States in some diabolical design against persons of Islamic persuasion. Disregarding the fact that the forcible removal of Sheikh Rogo's body from the crime scene had guaranteed the irretrievable loss of any forensic evidence that would have helped in establishing the exact nature of his murder, they managed flawlessly managed to dismiss the force as incompetent and compromised while calling on the same force to move quickly and establish who the murderer was.

"We condemn the extra-judicial killing of of Sheikh Rogo. He is entitled to life. He has been taken to court several times and found innocent." Thundered NAMLEF chairman Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi, conveniently forgetting that at the time of his death, Sheikh Rogo was facing charges in a Nairobi court of illegal possession of firearms and involvement in terrorist activity and was actually out on a Ksh5m bail. "We are seeing the hand of the Americans in this, just like they killed Samir Hashim Khan and Mohamed Bekhit Hassan."

"The police should also forthwith stop harassing innocent civilians in Majengo (in Mombasa)" The Muslim leaders added during their press conference, apparently reading mischef into the decision by the police to send anti-riot personnel to areas where rioting was afoot. "Why are they targeting innocent people sitting in their houses?"
Sitting in their houses. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Truth About Lies

Part A: The Truth.

I was going to write an article on what the truth is, but then I remembered a certain Bible story which goes something like this:

A couple of millennia ago, God did something not many right-thinking dads would do. He instructed his own son to depart the ritzy comforts of heaven, notwithstanding the fact that the poor dude had done absolutely nothing wrong, and live on earth for thirty-three years.

And that was not all. As if the prospect living among human beings were not disturbing enough, the unfortunate fellow was also directed to hold no permanent residence, provide free medical services on demand, and occasionally feed thousands of hangers-on while broke.

Oh. And he was also expected to do all this while telling a race which has spent eternity thinking they are God’s chosen ones that his dad really didn’t like them that much; that basically, they were pretty much pissing him off big time.

Everybody of course knows how the last part turned out. Three years into explaining to the multitudes that they were pissing his dad off and that pissing his dad off wasn’t a great idea, he found himself  nailed to a rickety pole with thorns in his hair and a twelve-inch dagger plunged into his side.

The lessons that can gathered from this story are million-fold, but one in particular stands out for me: Very few people know or like being told what the truth is, and trying to explain it to them can get you killed.

So mindful of this and desirous to spend as many days on earth as the economy, Al Shabaab and Kenya’s roads will let me, I decided I will not write about the truth.

Instead, I decided I will tell people what a lie is.

Part B: The Lies

Plainly speaking, a lie is the opposite of the truth. It is an inaccuracy maliciously expressed with the express intention of derailing, disproving or otherwise disenfranchising a previously accepted logical, sound and empirically proven fact; for example by using so many unnecessary words in a definition that the reader becomes blinded to the fact that you are not making any sense.

There are three broad categories of lies, and these are:-

1.       White Lies

Imagine yourself at five years old. You are perched precariously on a wobbly stool, your tiny hand stretched in the general direction of the kitchen cabinet where your mother keeps the sugar dish under permanent lock and key but somehow forgot to do so today.

Just as your grubby paw coils around this equivalent of the Arthurian legend Holy Grail, the kitchen door swings open and your mother walks in, looking like someone who has just spent the last hour eating unripe lemons. “What are you doing?” She roars, and it is not a rhetorical question.

The next approximately five words to come out of your mouth= White Lie.

2.      Blatant lies

You have just arrived from the United States of America, where you and your brother Leo have lived for the past decade or so, and are met at the airport by the customary throng of relatives. However, something seems odd…all the relatives have got tears in their eyes. Tears of sadness.

“What happened to Leo?” One relative asks.

“He was a famous man over there.” You answer. “He was a long-term member of a very prominent American government institution, and he even briefly held its chair. His death came as a great shock.”

This gives comfort to your kin, who turn away ignorant of the fact that indeed, Leo had been famous: A famous criminal. They are unaware that the prominent American institution he boasted membership of was actually a federal prison, and that his death did literally come as a shock-on the electric chair.

3.      Statistics.

According to recent data released by the Statistics Association of Kenya, exactly 100% of statistics cited by people writing articles about lies are actually made up on the spot. Evidence of this phenomenon is usually clearer when such articles quote authorities on statistics that don’t even exist.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Happenings: Lunch Time Terror

It's lunchtime, and I'm seated on a plank of wood suspended between two other wooden stumps embedded to the ground inside a long tin-walled shack. The location is along Lunga Lunga road in Industrial area, and judging by the frantic pace at which the waiters are rushing, these people are hungry

"Teargas!" The waiter who has just taken my order suddenly shouts, and I have to physically restrain myself from racing for the door and clearing the place as fast as I can. This is, after all, one of the seedier parts of town where riots are not altogether uncommon.

But I need not worry for my safety. The purpose of the waiter's blood-curdling yell, it turns out, is to simply inform the harried-looking waitress behind the small kitchen window to include some pepper in the Karanga I have just ordered, and not to warn the assembly of eaters in the food kiosk of the presence of riot-busting fumes.

Welcome to the world of low-end dining.

Detour to Justice: The curious case of Trayvon Martin.

On Sunday 26th November 2012, the biggest stars in American basketball met at the Amway Centre in Orlando, Florida, for the 61st edition of the NBA All Star game. It was the first time since 2004 that an all star game was being played in the East Coast of the United States and the first time since 1992 that the state of Florida was playing host, so excitement among the local population was high.

Among those looking forward to the game was 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was spending time with his father and his father’s fiancée at the Retreat at Twin Lakes residential area of Sanford, twenty miles north of Orlando. A junior high school student in the Miami Dade district of South Florida, Trayvon had been suspended from school a few days earlier, and his father was keeping an eye on him.

Trayvon Martin

Approximately one hour before the game, which was scheduled to tip off at 7:30pm EST, Trayvon left the house, apparently to purchase a can of iced tea and a packet of skittles at a nearby convenience store and get back in time for the tip-off.

Right about the same time, George Zimmerman was driving along the Retreat at Twin Lakes streets on a personal errand. A long time citizen law enforcer and captain of the neighbourhood watch service, the 29-year old insurance underwriter carried a loaded Kel Tec .9mm semi-automatic handgun.

George Zimmerman

At precisely 7:00pm, the black teenager and the white Hispanic-American man crossed paths for the first time.

Thirty minutes later, as Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard braced to tip off the All-Star game at the Amway Centre, Trayvon Martin lay face down a hundred yards from his father’s fiancée’s condo.

Lodged in his lifeless heart was a bullet from Zimmerman’s gun.

An unnecessary fatality: The ignonimous injustice of a death

When Trayvon did not come home by the early hours of 27th February, his worried father, Tracy Martin, called police to report him missing.

At around 8am, police officers from the Sanford Police Department arrived at his fiancée’s house with pictures of a young man who had been shot dead in the area the previous evening. The young man had been booked in the local hospital morgue as ‘John Doe’ as he had not been carrying identification at the time he was shot.

The pictures were those of Trayvon, eyes rolled back and mouth wide open in death.

The devastated father then asked about the circumstances of his son’s death, and learnt that the police were not only aware of the circumstances in detail, but also knew and had apprehended the killer, who had confessed to the killing. 

The news was welcome relief, albeit extremely scant relief, to Tracy Martin.

 But this relief lasted only until the police told him that due to some absurd Florida law which governs the use of lethal force in circumstances such as the one which resulted in his son’s death, the killer could not be charged with the killing.

The letter of the law: Stand Your Ground

The law cited by the Sanford Police Department to justify their failure to seek Zimmerman’s prosecution was a 2011 Florida Statute (Chapter 776) on Justifiable Use of Force, modelled on the so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ doctrine. In interpreting the law with regards to the fatal altercation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, the police specifically leaned on three sections of the law:

  • Section 776.012(1) which states: ‘’...a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if...he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a      forcible felony.’’
  • Section 776.013(3) which states: ‘’ A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony,’’ and
  • Section 776.032(1) which states: ‘’A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force.’’
The police told Tracy Martin that Trayvon had approached Zimmerman twice. First, he walked up to Zimmerman’s vehicle and asked why he was following him, and Zimmerman denied following him. Trayvon then walked away and Zimmerman got out of his vehicle, only for Trayvon to approach him again from behind a building and ask, “What’s your problem, homie?” Zimmerman said he did not have a problem, and Trayvon attacked him. The altercation escalated, and being in reasonable fear of his life, Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon in self defence.

Tracy Martin was told that this account of events as told by Zimmerman was believable, and that since the police had not received any evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s account that he was acting in self defence, Florida law protected him for being prosecuted for the crime of killing Trayvon.

In simple terms, what the police were telling Tracy Martin was that the man who had killed his son was going to walk free, not only with the full knowledge, but also the full approval of the state justice system.

Profiles of a homicide: A matter of race?

Few things can match the sheer terror a parent goes through when he or she is unable to ascertain the whereabouts of their child. Establishing that a missing child was involved in a fatal altercation with a firearm-wielding vigilante most certainly ranks in the higher echelons among stuff that parental nightmares would be made of.

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, took these body blows and endured.

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton

But to be told that their innocent unarmed son’s unprovoked killing by an armed, semi-trained law enforcement volunteer would go unpunished was beyond what Tracy Martin and Seybrinah Fulton’s broken souls were able to take. That George Zimmerman would not even get to stand in front of a judge, and that this failure to account for his heinous action was perfectly legal, was too bitter a pill for the divorced couple to swallow.

Two things were immediately apparent to them. One, George Zimmerman would not have taken the extreme steps he took had Trayvon been white. And two, they were absolutely certain that the Sanford Police Department would have arrested Zimmerman and sought his prosecution in court had (a) Trayvon been white or (b) Zimmerman been black. Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton were convinced that their son had been the victim of racial profiling, and that this had led to his death. 

Crudely put, Trayvon had been killed because he was black, and Zimmerman was going to escape prosecution because he was a white man accused of killing a black man.

So with a burning sense of injustice, the couple retained the services of a lawyer to pursue justice for their son.   

Self-Defence of the indefensible: Police on the spotlight

The lawyer Trayvon’s parents engaged was Benjamin Crump, a wrongful death, malpractice and civil rights attorney based in Tallahassee, Florida. Crump is most famous for his role in the 2006 Martin Anderson Case, where his litigation of the death of a 14-year-old black delinquent at a state-run boot camp led to a near-total overhaul of the state’s juvenile delinquency correctional practice.

Benjamin Crump

When Crump was first given the basics of Trayvon’s case, he was certain it was an open-and-shut case with the police. ‘’A civilian law enforcement volunteer with a gun shoots an unarmed teenager?’’ He asked.  ‘’He will be behind bars by the end of today. Just wait and see.’’

Only it didn’t happen that way, and when three days later the police had still done nothing, Crump decided it was time to yank the authorities’ chains until he got them to act.

He immediately set about collecting the facts of Trayvon’s case, and it didn’t take long for a very disturbing picture to emerge from myriad aspects of the police investigation, most of which either flew in the face of logic, or outright did not make sense. The most glaring of these aspects included:

  • Trayvon was booked at the morgue as a ‘John Doe’, a term used to refer to unidentified dead bodies placed in a morgue; yet he was killed less than a hundred yards from his home, and officers at the scene of his shooting did not make any efforts to establish his identity by asking neighbors and witnesses if they recognized him.
  • The initial police report on Trayvon's death, completed at 3:07 a.m. on Feb. 27, listed his full name, city of birth, address and phone number, yet Tracy Martin was not notified of his son's death until after he reported him missing the next morning.
  • According to what Zimmerman told officers at the scene of the crime, Trayvon felled him with a single blow to the face, jumped on him and started banging his head against the ground, forcing him to reach for his gun and shoot him at point-blank range. However, a closed circuit camera picture of Zimmerman entering the Sanford Police Station approximately 37 minutes after the shooting did not show any noticeable marks or bruises on him to indicate that he had suffered sufficient injury to warrant retaliation by lethal force.
  • When Zimmerman was taken to the police station, no drug or alcohol screen was carried out on him, despite such tests being standard procedure for all possible homicide investigations.
  •  Police also took Zimmerman at his word when he claimed that he had a ‘squeaky clean’ criminal record, and didn’t run a background check on him even after it later emerged that he was once arrested in 2005 on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer when interfering with the arrest of a friend.
  • After he questioned Zimmerman regarding Trayvon’s killing, the lead homicide investigator on the case, Chris Serino, recommended charging him with manslaughter. Serino even filed an affidavit saying he was unconvinced by Zimmerman's account, but the state attorney’s office told him there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction and directed that Zimmerman be released.
All this convinced Crump that the Sanford Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office had already decided that Zimmerman was justified in killing Trayvon Martin, and would not actively pursue any other leads, no matter how credible, that indicated otherwise.

The police however strenuously refuted these accusations, and insisted that they were standing by their actions in the investigation of Trayvon’s killing.

The lull before the storm

Next, Crump got together with a number of activists, including renowned civil rights activist Al Sharpton, and sought audience with the state attorney to urge a review of the case.

Al Sharpton

In the meantime, Velma Williams, a black commissioner with the Sanford City Commission, met and attempted to warn Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee of the possible consequences of inaction. ‘’Bill, there is a train coming towards you at 75 miles an hour.’’ She allegedly told the Sanford Police head during their meeting. ‘’Get in and engage the brakes before it hurtles out of control.’’

Bill Lee

Both Wolfinger and Lee promised that the matter would be exhaustively reviewed and necessary action taken, but forty-eight hours later, as Trayvon’s corpse began the seventh day of its eternal repose beneath the cold, hard soil of a Miami cemetery, Zimmerman remained a free man.

It was time, Crump decided, to up the ante.

A ray, a beam, and then came the floodlights.

With literally the biggest NBA stars in town, a black teenager’s killing getting extensive coverage in the local news would have been odd.

 It was therefore not in the least bit surprising that on the night of Trayvon’s shooting, all media outlets dedicated their prime slots to analyses of the All-Star game and the 151-149 Western Conference victory over the Eastern Conference. Trayvon’s shooting only got a few mentions in the local radio stations that night, and a short article in the next day’s Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s leading daily.

But with Benjamin Crump in the picture, this apathy was about to be transformed.

Being practically Florida’s best known black attorney, Crump had over the years developed an extensive network of contacts within both local and national media. He sat down with his team and formulated a media strategy, and then set about calling these contacts.

Initially, the news circulated exclusively within Florida. Then a few outlets in neighbouring Georgia picked up the story and on 9th March, the local bureau of CBS News, which has nationwide coverage, obtained an exclusive interview of Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton arranged by Crump and forwarded the clip to their headquarters in New York.

The next day, the story was covered by ABC World News, and two days later, CNN also aired the story prime time. By then, a number of popular news websites, including The Huffington Post, The Young Turks, and, which is affiliated with NBC News, had also started to extensively cover the case.
Sybrina Fulton also launched a petition on calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, and with the case gaining national prominence, over 500,000 people signed the petition within a week.

Celebrities soon started to lend their voices to the petition. New York Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony showed solidarity with the call by tweeting a picture of himself wearing a hoodie, and the entire Miami Heat team did the same. Eminent black personalities like Russell Simmons and Spike Lee called for Zimmerman’s arrest and expressed disappointment with the Sanford Police Department’s handling of the case.

As the momentum gathered, Velma Williams went back to police Chief Bill Lee. ‘’Remember when I told you to jump on the train going at 75 miles an hour and engage the brakes before it got out of hand? ‘’ She asked him.

‘’Yes.’’ Lee replied.

‘’Well, it’s going at 150 miles an hour now.’’ Williams said. ‘’And there are no brakes.’’

Last Calls: Portrait of a Murder

In the course of his inquiry into Trayvon’s case, one of the people Benjamin Crump had talked to was Trayvon’s 16-year-old girlfriend, whose identity currently remains secret to protect her privacy. By an amazing twist of fate, it emerged that the girl had called Trayvon a few minutes before his death, and had stayed on the phone with him until just a few seconds before he was fatally shot.

According to the girl, she had called Trayvon at approximately 7:12pm and he seemed agitated, saying that a strange man was following him. She said she had advised him to run, and after initially refusing to take the suggestion, he eventually elected to run. A couple of minutes later, she heard the beginning of what seemed like an argument between Trayvon and Zimmerman before the connection was terminated.

Records from the girl’s service provider corroborated her account of the conversation.

And then it emerged that at the exact same time Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend, Zimmerman had also been on the phone with a non-emergency police dispatcher, describing what appeared to be his deliberate pursuit of Trayvon. Police initially refused to release records of the conversation, but in the wake of unrelenting pressure from Crump, the transcripts were eventually released.

The girl’s account of her conversation with Trayvon had cast doubts on Zimmerman’s allegation that Trayvon was the aggressor, and that he had only shot him in self defence.

Transcript of Zimmerman’s call to non-emergency police dispatcher
Dispatcher:       Sanford Police Department. ...
Zimmerman:     Hey we've had some break-ins in my neighbourhood, and there's a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher:       OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?
Zimmerman:     He looks black.
Dispatcher:       Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman:     Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He's [unintelligible], he was just staring...
Dispatcher:       OK, he's just walking around the area...
Zimmerman:     Looking at all the houses.
Dispatcher:       OK...
Zimmerman:     Now he's just staring at me.
Dispatcher:       OK—you said it's 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?
Zimmerman:     That's the clubhouse...
Dispatcher:       That's the clubhouse, do you know what the—he's near the clubhouse right now?
Zimmerman:     Yah, now he's coming towards me.
Dispatcher:       OK.
Zimmerman:     He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male.
Dispatcher:       How old would you say he looks?
Zimmerman:     He's got button on his shirt, late teens.
Dispatcher:       Late teens ok.
Zimmerman:     Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out, he's got something in his hands...I don't know what his deal is.
Dispatcher:       Just let me know if he does anything ok
Zimmerman:     How long until you get an officer over here?
Dispatcher:       Yeah we've got someone on the way; just let me know if this guy does anything else.
Zimmerman:     Okay. These assholes they always get away. When you come to the clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the clubhouse.
Dispatcher:       So it's on the left hand side from the clubhouse?
Zimmerman:     No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left...uh you go straight in, don't turn, and make a left. Shit he's running.
Dispatcher:       He's running? Which way is he running?
Zimmerman:     Down towards the other entrance to the neighbourhood.
Dispatcher:       Which entrance is that that he's heading towards?
Zimmerman:     The back entrance...fucking [disputed/unintelligible]
Dispatcher:       Are you following him?
Zimmerman:     Yeah
Dispatcher:       Ok, we don't need you to do that.
Zimmerman:     Ok
Dispatcher:       Alright sir what is your name?
Zimmerman:     George...He ran.
Dispatcher:       Alright George what's your last name?
Zimmerman:     Zimmerman
Dispatcher:       And George what's the phone number you're calling from?
Zimmerman:     [redacted]
Dispatcher:       Alright George we do have them on the way, do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?
Zimmerman:     Alright, where you going to meet with them at?
Zimmerman:     If they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that's my truck...[unintelligible]
Dispatcher:       What address are you parked in front of?
Zimmerman:     I don't know, it's a cut through so I don't know the address.
Dispatcher:       Okay do you live in the area?
Zimmerman:     Yeah, I... [Unintelligible]
Dispatcher:       What's your apartment number?
Zimmerman:     It's a home it's 1950, oh crap I don't want to give it all out, I don't know where this kid is.
Dispatcher:       Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?
Zimmerman:     Yeah that's fine.
Dispatcher:       Alright George, I'll let them know to meet you around there okay?
Zimmerman:     Actually could you have them call me and I'll tell them where I'm at?
Dispatcher:       Okay, yeah that's no problem.
Zimmerman:     Should I give you my number or you got it?
Dispatcher:       Yeah I got it [redacted]
Zimmerman:     Yeah you got it.
Dispatcher:       Okay no problem, I'll let them know to call you when you're in the area.
Zimmerman:     Thanks.
Dispatcher:       You're welcome.

The backlash begins

With the release of Zimmerman’s call record to the police, attention on the Trayvon Martin case surged. Sybrina Fulton’s petition received a million new signatures overnight, and civil rights activists all over the country began organizing ‘Million Hoodie March’ demonstrations to call for Zimmerman’s arrest.

On March 20, the US (Federal) Justice Department announced that they were opening investigations into the incident. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) also announced that they were looking into whether Trayvon’s constitutional rights had been violated, and the Florida state governor, Rick Scott, announced that he had written to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asking them to investigate the shooting.

On March 21, 2012, three out of the five members of the Sanford city commission, including the Mayor, passed a motion of no confidence in regards to the police chief Bill Lee and his handling of the case. The following day, Lee announced that he had temporarily stepped down from his position as chief of police, stating "my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process."

Later on the same day, Norm Wolfinger also rescued himself from the case. Governor Scott announced that he was appointing Angela Corey, State attorney for the neighbouring Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, to be Special Prosecutor and that she would be investigating the case instead of Wolfinger.

Angela Corey

On April 11, 45 days after Trayvon was killed and 20 days after her appointment as special prosecutor in the case, Angela Corey announced that George Zimmerman would be arraigned in court on charges of second degree murder for the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Detour to justice: The Mishandling of a homicide investigation

On May 29th 2012, George Zimmerman will stand in front of Judge Jessica Recksiedler in a courtroom in Seminole, Florida, and enter a Not Guilty plea to the second degree murder charge levied against him. Afterwards, there will be a legal process, maybe short but most probably long and drawn out, to determine whether he is criminally responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin.

Presumption of innocence is, without equivocation, the most fundamental pillar of criminal jurisprudence. So long as there exists any doubt on the question of criminal responsibility, an accused person shall not be convicted of a crime until evidence is produced to dispel this doubt. Presumption of innocence, along with the guarantee of a fair trial, are entitlements Zimmerman has a right to claim and receive.

In the court of public opinion, however, Zimmerman has already been judged and his sentence passed. Most black people with an opinion on the case have already convicted him, most notably Mike Tyson who wondered why Zimmerman has not been shot yet and the New Black Panther party which placed a $10,000 bounty on his head; while a majority of white respondents to a survey expressed their belief that Zimmerman really was acting in self defence when he shot Trayvon Martin.

Mike Tyson

To a great extent, perceptions and opinions on the case are based on the portrayal of the story in the media and what some perceive to be ‘excessive’ coverage of the case.

An oft-cited complaint by Supporters of Zimmerman has been that the most widely-used photos in the media, which showed Martin as a "baby-faced boy" and Zimmerman as a beefy-looking figure, were outdated and may have helped shape initial public perceptions of the deadly shooting. NBC also came under severe criticism after it aired an edited version of Zimmerman’s call to the police which improperly painted Zimmerman as a racial profiler, and this has raised the question of whether he will receive a fair trial.

Benjamin Crump obviously disagrees with these sentiments. “This case needed the media” he stresses, pointing out that had it not been for such unrelenting pressure from the fourth estate, the killing of Trayvon Martin would never have been exhaustively investigated.

And this opinion, that the case was not properly investigated, is shared by many prominent African-American personalities.

President Barack Obama

"Obviously this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what (Trayvon’s) parents are going through," President Barack Obama said on 23rd March, after the Justice Department announced it was looking into the case. "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon...and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this."

Every person suspected of a crime is entitled to presumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. However, every victim is also entitled to a thorough investigation of a crime committed against them, and for the likely perpetrator of the crime to be subjected to due process of the law and sanctions if guilt is proven.

Responding to early to criticisms of the investigation, police Chief Bill Lee vehemently defended the department. "In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defence, and until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him." Lee initially said, adding that had George Zimmerman the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he'd probably do things differently, and so would Trayvon.

Yet at the time, police were already in possession of witness statements from neighbours who had seen the incident first hand, as well as records of the damning call Zimmerman had made to the police. When these were presented to Judge Mark Herr along with an affidavit from the prosecution, it took him less than a minute to rule that there was probable cause to mount a prosecution.

Only two people can tell exactly what exactly happened that night, and one of them is dead while the other's account is being called to question. Bill Lee was right. Had Trayvon Martin known he was going to die, or had George Zimmerman known he would become the lightning rod for such an outpouring of hate, they both would have done thins differently on the night of February 26th 2012.

But Trayvon and Zimmerman are not the only ones who should have done things differently.

Speaking after Zimmerman's arrest had been announced, Sybrina Fulton voiced in a few words what was the central message of the 'Justice for Trayvon' campaign. "We just want people to know that if you shoot someone that is unarmed, you should be arrested." She said. "The evidence can play out once you get to court, but you should be arrested.”

Amen to that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kony 2012: Justice For The Victims.

Warning: Images contained in this blog post may be disturbing.

"In April 2003, two weeks before the Iraq war started, two weeks before I travelled to Sudan to document the holocaust, I sold a movie musical to Steven Spielberg. That was always my plan: to make Hollywood musicals.
I had just finished my film degree at USC and I wanted that post-graduation globe-trotting adventure. I figured instead of backpacking Europe, I'd visit an African genocide. With two friends, my camera (purchased from eBay) and a few hundred bucks in cash, I went to tell a story that mattered. And it changed my life forever. 
We had never seen anything like it. So many bodies sleeping on top of each other. They were called night commuters. These children left their homes and walked to urban areas in search of safety from abductions by a rebel group. We couldn't believe we were witnessing something so horrific, and yet unheard of by most. These children were victims of a war that was older than them.

We returned to the states with a clear objective- tell their story. We couldn't forget the faces and names of these children."
-Jason Russell- The Invisible Children (From Huffington Post)

On 21st February 2004, an army of green-fatigued combatants from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by indicted war criminal Okot Odhiambo, descended towards the Barlonyo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the outskirts of Lira, Northern Uganda. Numbering about 300, most of the combatants were young boys barely in their teens.

At around 2pm GMT, Odhiambo led his child soldiers into the camp, and then presided over what is arguably the darkest two hours of Uganda's History.
Speaking in 2010 during an event held to mark 6 years since the event, a child who was part of the invading force recounted the chilling episode. “Odhiambo told us, “I have received the order from the high command of the LRA. You are to kill every living thing. Kill the old people, kill the adults, kill the government soldiers, and abduct all the young children and boys."
"We had three long lines of our fighters. Odhiambo blew a whistle and we scattered. We surrounded the camp and the detach and started fighting and lighting things on fire. Out of the 340 people we had, 100 had guns, we had bombs, we had J2s, AK-47s in plenty, and the other 240 fighters left had clubs and sticks. But most of them were ululating and boosting morale, saying, “We have to capture them alive!" 

Barlonyo camp was home to about 5000 internally displaced persons, and quite a number of them died or were maimed beyond belief on that wretched, cursed day. Some were shot, many were clubbed to death and a great majority were herded into huts, locked inside and incinerated beyond recognition.

The government had put in place security measures consisting of local militia (the 'Amukas') and other Local Defence Units, but these forces had no radio communication with the Ugandan military, and it would be three hours before the Uganda People's Defence Forces responded. By then, Odhiambo and his forces had butchered over 300 people, and the camp was a grisly necropolis.

Eighteen months after the massacre at Barlonyo, the ICC issued indictments against the top leadership quartet of the LRA, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ong'wen and Odhiambo. Of the four, Otti has since died, while Kony, Ong'wen and Odhiambo remain at large.

The ICC indictments came during a period when the Ugandan government had applied relentless pressure on the LRA, and indications were that this pressure, coupled with internal disharmony within the LRA, (Otti was actually executed by the LRA on Kony's direct orders following a disagreement), had severely weakened the rebel outfit.

This weakening of the LRA brought about a semblance of peace to Northern Uganda, but Kony never renounced violence. Taking his band of fighters with him, he pushed West into the Democratic Republic of Congo, spreading all the way to the Central African Republic. In the meantime, his blood-lust continued and his rebels kept committing atrocities against populations they crossed, most notably the Christmas Day Massacre in the Haut-Ulele District of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 25th December 2008.

In the meantime, Jason Russell had gone back home to the United States and established Invisible Children, a non-profit organization aimed at giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation. His goal was to challenge people's apathy and turn into action, in the hope that this action would help bring about positive change for the children who touched him so.

And in March 2012, an ingenious campaign by Invisible Children, Kony 2012, succeeded in bringing international attention to Joseph Kony and the conflict in Uganda beyond his wildest dreams. The 30-minute movie, which aims to keep international attention on Kony so that the American government can be persuaded to keep American troops on the ground searching for him, went viral a couple of days after it was posted on YouTube, and as of 17th March 2012 has already been watched over 80 million times.

But the success of the campaign has exposed it to stinging criticism, and the criticism has become almost as viral as the campaign itself. According to Wikipedia, among issues the campaign has been criticized for include:
  • Oversimplification of events in the region. While the campaign promotes global activism, it has been criticized for providing a black-and-white picture rather than encouraging the viewers to learn about the situation.
  • Giving a misleading impression of the whereabouts and magnitude of Kony's remaining LRA forces. Kony's followers are now thought to number only in the hundreds, and Kony himself is believed to be in the Central African Republic rather than Uganda--a fact that receives only a passing mention in the video.
  • In addition, the Ugandan army and the South Sudanese army, which have engaged in military campaigns against the LRA, have themselves been accused of human rights violations such as attacks against civilians, use of child soldiers and looting of civilian homes and businesses.
Admittedly, these criticisms are valid, and they do bring to light a myriad of very pertinent issues that should be addressed. However, it is my opinion that they are more harmful than beneficial like all criticisms are supposed to be, and they only serve to muddle the picture and remove focus from the campaign's intended target: The arrest and prosecution of Joseph Kony.

Jason Russell's campaign was not to right all the wrongs of the Ugandan government on the LRA conflict, or to single handedly bring Kony to book. Much as he may have wished to provide a final, comprehensive solution to the Northern conflict and its resultant effects, he does not have the means to do so and any attempt of a campaign on that scale will in all likelihood end in failure.

When Jason Russell left Uganda in 2003, he had one goal in mind: to tell the story of Uganda's invisible children and make them visible to the international community. He found a wildly effective way of doing that, and instead of getting applause, he gets criticized?

He has been accused of mis-representing the conflict the magnitude of the conflict. For Allah's sake, How? The fact that Kony is now weak and his forces number 'in their hundreds' doesn't take away the fact that a huge percentage of those 'hundreds' are child combatants abducted and forced to fight against their will, children whose very stories Jason Russell set out to tell when he established Invisible Children.

Questions about the plausibility of Ugandan army intervention and logistical and operational support by the American military, which the video advocates, have also been raised by critics. This only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the critics, because the sole reason why Kony is such a weak, almost spent force, is due to the relentless attacks of the Uganda People's Defence Forces, together with the support of Congolese and South Sudanese forces.

Joseph Kony has been a thorn on the flesh of children for the past twenty-six years, and his victims deserve justice. It doesn't matter whether the children are ten or thirty million, in Northern Uganda, the DRC or Central African Republic, these children need to be protected from him. and so long as he remains at large, they will remain under threat. Jason Russell and his army of invisible children have come up with a campaign that just might work. Instead of pulling him down, let us help him achieve it. Let us take Kony, Odhiambo, Ong'wen and their ilk to the Hague.

That is the only way that this person and other victims of the Barlonyo massacre will find justice.