African arts showcase at UC Berkeley

The spirit of Africa was alive at the African Arts Society's "Showcase" on November 20 at UC Berkeley.

Ready to Learn Fun Fair

Children enjoyed face painting, legos and storytelling at the Ready to Learn Fun Fair at Peralta Elementary School in Oakland.

Occupy Oakland calls for West Coast Port Shutdown

Organizers say Port owners are "1%." Port begs to keep the Ports Open for 99% workers.

Oakland Labor Day BBQ hosts good time for 'fam bam'

The "I am Oakland" collective hosted the Labor Day Fam Bam BBQ at Mosswood Park on September 6.

Protest against censorship of Palestinian Children's Art

In response to censorship of Palestinian children's art by an Oakland art museum, dozens came out to protest in Oakland.

RIP Peabo Wellington

College of Alameda student Jepeabo Wellington was murdered days before the school year began.

Students gain college acceptance at Black College Fair

Hundreds of young people attended the third annual Black College Fair at Laney College, the second year the Oakland community college has hosted the event.

Cleopatra to be portray by another white actress

Editor's Note: After return from Kemet (Egypt) this past weekend on an educational tour, it seems ironic to hear that Cleopatra will be played by a white actress. To quote our Nubian tour guide Farouk, "There were seven queens named Cleopatra, and none of them looked like Elizabeth Taylor." - Reginald James

By Shirea L. Carroll
Special to
Just when we thought there weren't enough leading roles for Black women in Hollywood, they create one and give it to a White woman.

Film producer Scott Rudin has purchased the film rights to upcoming biography 'Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra: A Life,' and has confirmed that the movie iis being developed for and with [Angelina] Jolie." Jolie, a Hollywood A-lister, will do her best in bringing the story of the famed Egyptian queen to life, and it appears no one doubts she can do it... including Pulitzer prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, who penned the biography, "Cleopatra: A Life," a book that won't be on shelves until the fall.

Schiff already heavily endorses Jolie, stating, "I think she'd be perfect for it and I can see a possible Oscar in her future. Physically, she's got the perfect look."

Gasp, the nerve! "She's got the perfect look?" Honestly, I don't care how full Angelina Jolie's lips are, how many African children she adopts, or how bronzed her skin will become for the film, I firmly believe this role should have gone to a Black woman. I mean, isn't it enough that 47 years ago, dame Elizabeth Taylor was cast to portray Cleopatra in one of the most expensive films ever made? That Elizabeth Taylor was actually the third White woman to be tapped for the Cleopatra role -- following Vivien Leigh and Claudette Colbert -- just makes this all the more comical.

Were Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry and Thandie Newton unavailable for auditions that day? Why does Hollywood think it's even slightly plausible to cast White women in roles that would be more sensible to cast a Black actress for? Especially when that role is an African queen.

It happened just two years ago, in 2007's thriller "Stuck," directed by Stuart Gordon, based on the true story of a Chante Mallard. The story tells a tale of a woman who hits a homeless man with her car and results with him trapped in her car's windshield. Instead of getting the man help, Mallard (played by actress Mena Suvari) opts to let him die slowly in her garage.

The interesting thing is Mallard is a Black woman, and Suvari, who was cast to play the role, is -- surprise, surprise -- a White woman. Adding insult to injury, instead of just casting a Black woman to play the role, the film gave Suvari a more "ethnic look" for the role, by adding stereotypical cornrows to her hair. Hollywood, are you serious?

Now, Jolie is set to play Cleopatra, who isn't as technically perfect as some would claim if you study the Queen of the Nile's distinguished history. First and foremost, the role should be given to a younger actress -- think Jurnee Smollett -- considering Cleopatra began her reign as Queen of Egypt at the tender age of 18 and ended her own life at the age of 39.

Secondly, while historically there is no concrete confirmation that Cleopatra was of a darker complexion, there is more evidence than not that she was Black, and not entirely of Macedonian Greek ancestry, as Shakespeare, leagues of painters and now Hollywood would have us believe. And, ultimately, while Cleopatra's heritage remains under speculation, it remains that she was in fact an African queen. Jolie -- not so perfect.

What's next? A biopic on Sojourner Truth played by Betty White?

Originally published on

Mehserle trial, day 2, friend sobs on the stand

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga

Morning testimony in day two of the Mehserle trial ended on an emotional note. A 17-year-old friend of Oscar Grant, accompanying Grant when he was shot by the former transit officer, was called to the stand.

Jamil Dewar had filmed some of the events the morning of Jan. 1, 2009, on the Fruitvale BART station platform with his cell phone camera.

Although the video does not actually show Grant being shot by Mehserle, Dewar broke down, sobbing uncontrollably, as the court heard the sound of Mehserle’s gun go off in the video. His mother rushed to the witness stand to console him, also weeping, as the court went into recess for lunch.

Dewar, who was 15 years old at the time of Grant’s death, was one of five individuals at the BART station who captured various portions of the chaos on film.

Prior to Dewar taking the stand Friday, the court heard from Karina Vargas, Tommy Cross and Daniel Liu. The prosecution was continuing its theme of establishing the video evidence in the case, begun Thursday afternoon, by calling the New Year’s Eve BART riders who had shot the videos of the Mehserle shooting. Maragarita Carazo, who was called to the stand Thursday, was the first to testify.

Four common threads bound all of the previous four witnesses’ testimony: All began filming due to the aggression they say they either saw or heard from officer Tony Pirone; all stated that Oscar Grant was cooperative the whole time and that his hands were behind his back; all stated that Mehserle was holding his gun with both hands in front of him, and all said that Mehserle had a shocked look on his face.

Michael Rains, attorney for the defense in the case, took the opportunity to briefly cross-examine all of the witnesses on their testimony, mainly focusing on their perceptions of Mehserle’s facial expression after Grant was shot.

Rains’ questioning of Dewar however took on a different tone. Using transcripts of Dewar’s testimony during a preliminary hearing in May of 2009, Rains first attempted to elicit evidence of gang activity and whether or not Grant was the aggressor in the scuffle that led to BART police being called to the Fruitvale station.

Dewar’s recollections were inconsistent even though Rains took the opportunity to read back portions of his testimony to him. At one point Rains asked if Dewar did in fact give false testimony during the preliminary hearing, wherein Dewar stated he hadn’t meant to.
Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, speaks to the media outside court Thursday, June 10, during the murder trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle. So far most of the media covering the trial are from the Bay Area. Readers who recognize how historic this trial is and how tragic an acquittal would be should encourage their favorite media, especially the Black press, to cover it. – Photo: Nick Ut
“[T]he defense was trying to bring up some irrelevant issues, possibly connected to gangs, that really had no impact on Mr. Mehserle shooting Oscar Grant in his back,” said Alex Alonso of The site is a compendium of news, analysis and information on gangs, the court system and law enforcement, including a section called “Good Cop/Bad Cop.”

An expert witness in numerous criminal trials who observed the day’s proceedings, Alonso said he felt that Rains’ questioning was out of line.

“And while the defense attorney was asking all these questions, I noticed that the prosecution did not object … and allowed this questioning to go on for several minutes until the judge actually requested a sidebar,” said Alonso. “I felt that the judge maybe saw that the line of questioning was irrelevant ….”

Rains ended his cross-examination of Dewar by asking why the young man didn’t break down emotionally in May of 2009 when he saw his video played back the way he did today.

Dewar answered that he hadn’t seen the video any more since that time.
The trial will resume Monday, June 14, at 8:30 a.m., while the local Oscar Grant Justice Coalition will have a day-long protest in front of the courthouse beginning at 8 a.m.

Source: San Francisco Bay View Newspaper

Mehserle jury selected, trial date set

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
Special to

What began as a two-day selection process ended today with eight women and four men being sworn in as jurors in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle. The former transit officer is charged with the New Year’s Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III, 22, at an Oakland subway station.

The jury, composed of five Latina and three white woman and two Latino and two white men, will hear opening statements in the case on Thursday, June 10.

During the selection process, which began at 8:30 a.m. and ran until approximately 4 p.m., three African-Americans were excused by the court and the remaining two African-Americans in today’s juror pool were struck by the defense.

Many of today’s potential jurors had ties to law enforcement either through friendship, past service or through relatives.

Both the prosecution and the defense were allowed a total of 20 peremptory challenges each for the jurors and six each for the alternates.

Some in the courtroom said they were stunned by the lack of black jurors in the case.

Phyllis Jackson said “it was a chilling day” for Los Angeles.

“Jury selection here banishes all black people like the recent Equal Justice Initiative report found that southern courts do, while allowing the jury to be stacked with people who have friends, family and businesses involved with law enforcement,” she said.

The Southern California college professor came to court to observe the proceedings, which are open to the public.

Tracy Cooper, who came from Oakland to observe the proceedings, agreed.

“Out of the five intelligent black people they had in that jury pool, I can’t believe that not one of them was selected to serve on the jury,” she said. “Some of the people they decided to keep, there were too many who favored police officers.”

Jack Bryson Sr. said that the judge was giving Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, the trial on a platter.

“If tomorrow’s motions go (Rains’) way, there’s no hope for justice,” he said.

Court will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to hear three motions by Rains.

Two motions that were filed last week seek to either exclude Sophina Mesa, girlfriend of Oscar Grant and mother of their 4-year old daughter, from testifying or allow Rains to cross-examine her about Oscar Grant’s probation and parole status. The other motion seeks to exclude former transit officer Tony Pirone’s utterance of a racial slur at Oscar Grant.

A motion filed yesterday with the court seeks to exclude the synchronized video of the events of Jan. 1, 2009, submitted by the District Attorney and requests an evidentiary hearing.

Mehserle’s defense has also prepared and submitted a synchronized video to the court.

Opening statements in the trial are set for Thursday, June 10.

Thandisizwe Chimurenga, a veteran Los Angeles-based journalist and a programmer on LA Pacifica station KPFK, is covering the People v. Mehserle trial. Follow her coverage on Twitter @OscarGrantTrial. This article originally appeared on the San Francisco Bay View and

California v. Mehserle: Trial of Oscar Grant's murderer

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
Special to

The jury in the People of the State of California v. Johannes Mehserle will be whittled down to 18 people this week.

The process of voir dire is scheduled to conclude Wednesday June 9 by choosing 12 jurors and 6 alternates. Those individuals will hear opening arguments in the historic case the following day, June 10.

The case is the first time in California history that a law enforcement officer will be tried for murder committed in a line of duty shooting.

Last week, approximately 200 prospective jurors reported for duty at the Clara Shortridge Fritz Criminal Justice Center. They were informed by Judge Robert Perry of the need to ensure “a fair trial for both sides … without bias, sympathy, emotion or prejudice,” said Perry.

About half of the prospective jurors were excused primarily due to financial hardship. Many of those also cited their own biases as cause for bring excluded, stating they had already formed an opinion about the case.

One woman said her reason for being biased was because she had “a problem with people with guns and a little bit (with) authority.”

The woman’s bias became more pronounced as she told the court that the defendant looked like “a jarhead,” and that she was tired of all these “brown babies” being killed.

Some others said their bias was due to having friends or family members in law enforcement. One young man said he that he could not “separate what happens to cops when they go to jail.”

“You wouldn’t vote ‘not guilty’ if you thought he was guilty, would you?” Perry asked. The man answered no but he was also excused from service.

David Stein, representing the Alameda County District Attorney, Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle and Perry will query the remaining potential jurors based on their answers to the 15-page questionnaire that was distributed last week.

Both the prosecution and the defense will have a total of 52 peremptory challenges that may be used to strike prospective jurors from the pool.

The number of African-Americans in the jury pool is very small but there is a very large representation of Latinos.

Burris Comes Under Gag Order

During pretrial hearings and through jury selection Judge Robert Perry has stressed his intent to have the case judged on the facts presented in court. “We’re going to go through a lot of trouble to have the jurors judge this case on its merits,” he said. So as not to have what he termed a “side show atmosphere” in the trial, Perry ruled on June 1 that John Burris, attorney for the family of Grant, will have a gag order extended to him.

Rains had tried unsuccessfully at a January preliminary hearing to have the gag order, first imposed on the prosecution and the defense by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson last year, extended to Burris and the attorneys for BART in the civil trial.

Although Perry did not extend the order at that time, he reversed himself last week, because he said he had not been aware that Burris was the attorney for about five young men who are scheduled to be called as witnesses in the case.

Burris’ attorney, Carl Douglas of Beverly Hills urged the court “against the rare act” of extending the gag order so that Burris could remain “a zealous advocate for his clients.”

Attorney James Simmons says he is not surprised that the judge ruled Burris should come under the gag order. “It does not appear to be an abuse of the judge’s discretion,” said the Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney. “His clients are involved in this trial; if they were not witnesses, there would be no justification for a gag order.”

Burris will be allowed to be present in the courtroom and observe the trial, but both he and the attorneys for BART in the civil trial are now barred from speaking with media.

Expert Video Testimony to Be Allowed

Judge Perry also ruled last week that Michael Schott, a forensic video analyst, could testify as an expert witness for the defense.

During a May 7 pre-trial hearing Perry said he was concerned that Schott’s testimony would include declarative statements and cross the line into advocacy. Deputy D.A. Stein also registered his concern about Schott’s possible testimony. “You can’t see it here, but let me tell you what is happening,” he cited as an example.

Schott, whose background includes being a crime scene photographer in the 1970s, took the stand last week and both Rains and Stein questioned him as to his proposed testimony.

The videos that have been entered into evidence for the trial include one from a BART surveillance camera at the Fruitvale Station and five from individuals who were present at the scene.

Some of the sample testimony that Schott gave included his interpretation of what BART officers were doing and what Oscar Grant and others were doing in the video.

At one point during his sample testimony, Schott testified that a video showed Oscar Grant kneeing or attempting to knee former officer Tony Pirone in the midsection, and another video showed Jackie Bryson attempting to strike former officer Mehserle.

Stein countered that Schott’s testimony was only his interpretation and Perry clarified this was the case.

Still, the testimony of Schott was a cause for alarm for Jack Bryson, Sr.

“What is it that Michael Rains and Judge Perry see that no one else sees in this video?” asked Bryson Sr. “If my son had tried to hit that cop, don’t you think he would have arrested him? He was never charged; he was detained six hours but he was never charged with anything.”

Bryson Sr. echoed the earlier words of Judge Perry. “This judge is supposed to be there to make sure that Oscar also gets a fair trial.”

The trial is expected to last through the month of June.

Oscar Grant Protest held in Oakland on Eve of Mehserle Trial

On the eve of the historic trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle in the murder of Oscar Grant, activists held a vigil at Alameda County Superior Court. The case was moved to Los Angeles County, after Mehserle's defense successfully argued his client could not receive a fair trial in Alameda County.

The shooting, which occurred over 15 months ago, sparked outrage in the Bay Area with mass protests. Protests have taken place throughout the state, on various college campuses, and will likely be ramping up in Los Angeles as Bay Area activists have connected with Los Angeles activists.

Laney College Football Players win Academic Honor

Two Laney College football players were named to the California Community Colleges Football Coaches Association Academic All State Team this spring.

Sophomores Defensive Back Jordan Norris and Defensive Lineman Roosevelt Kirk ...

Here are their highlight reels:

Jordan Norris

Roosevelt Kirk

For more vidoes, visit Laney College athletics.

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