20 May 2013

Report-Back: The murder trial of Ashley Williams began this morning

The murder trial of Ashley Williams began this morning in Richmond circuit court, John Marshals Courts Builiding, 400 N. Marshall St.

Ms. William is the single, poor, 27-year old, African American mother charged with deliberately neglecting her youngest child D’Shawn, allowing him to starve to death. D’Shawn died on May 30, 2009, and it is only because of intense community interest in the case that the prosecution of Ms. Williams was delayed until today. Members of the family and the community have packed virtually every court hearing over the last several years.

The previous judge recused himself without comment, and the trial is being presided over by a visiting jurist, Judge Alfred B. Swersky. The morning was taken up by jury selection. The composition of the 12 jurors and 2 alternates is 8 whites, 6 African American, and includes 5 white men, 3 white women, 3 Black men and 3 Black women. After jury selection and a short break, opening statements were made. The 2 sides presented diametrically opposed portraits of Ms. Williams.

The prosecution spoke first, arguing that Ms. Williams never wanted her youngest child, and neglected him in a way she did not her other children, that she failed to follow doctors orders and didn’t feed the child adequately, particularly giving him nothing to eat in the last 3 days of his life.

The defense, Virginia state delegate Joe Morrisey, assisted by Paul Gregorio, attorneys from the law firm of Morrissey & Goldman, argued that far from being a neglectful parent, Ms. Williams was an extraordinary and compassionate caregiver, who had taken into her home her terminally ill mother (who was dying of lupus), with 3 toddlers at home, and while working a full time job with no health benefits. She asked a half sister to care for her newborn until her mother passed. When she started receiving more family help, she brought D’Shawn back to her home. Concerned about his continued low weight (his birth weight was 5lb 13oz) she repeatedly brought him to physicians at Manchester Pediatrics and Memorial Hospital (confirming the name of the hospital). D’Shawn was seen by physicians as late as 2 weeks before he died. No alarms were raised. At her doctor’s suggestion she was feeding him PediaSure (a nutritional supplement food for infants and children) which she determinedly tried to get him to eat and then ran out of a few days before the end of the month as well as the money to buy it.

Morrissey said he would present several witnesses along with photographs and a video showing Ms. Williams trying to get D’Shawn to eat in the weeks before he died.

The trial broke for lunch, then resumed at 2:15. It is expected to continue into Wednesday.

Along with family members who are also witnesses in the trial, attending today were Marty Jewell (former city council member), Scott Price (Alliance for Progressive Values), members of the Defenders, of CollectiveX, and the prisoner support group SPARC, among others.

The Defenders are making a special appeal to the Black community! Ashley is facing up to 45 years in prison for crimes she did not commit. The judge is white, the 2 prosecutors are white. Her defense attorneys are white. Even the 4 news reporters covering the trial are white. The Virginia Defender is the only community newspaper covering the trial. Don’t let Ashley stand alone. Come out this afternoon. Come out tomorrow morning. The court room number will be posted. If you can only come for 20 minutes, don’t let this sister face this trial without knowing that her own community has her back.


Ana Edwards, on behalf of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

10 March 2013


MON., March 4 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon: Ashby Anderson, jazz pianist, composer and founder of the Muse Creative Workspace in Shockoe Bottom discusses the making of the Richmond History Suite and the role of music in struggle, memory and place-making. Listen to this interview at DefendersLIVEradio.blogspot.com/listen

March 7 - 29 - The 60-day public comment period on TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) is now open. The VA Board of Health will make their third and final vote on April 12, and will be hearing public comments in the form of writing, phone calls, and in person hearings from now until March 29th. There are two scheduled public comment periods on March 7 & 12. Learn more at http://www.facebook.com/events/495571623823452/

MON, March 11 - “Remembering Fukushima ~ No Nukes ~ Renewable Energy Rally - “We want to let Dominion Virginia Power know that their continued use of nuclear power with it's production of toxic forever nuclear waste is unacceptable. We NEED safe renewable energy NOW ~ NO More Nukes!” 3/11/13 marks the 2nd year of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. 11 a.m. picketing, noon rally. Outside Dominion Virginia Power, 701 E. Cary St. Richmond VA. 23219

MON., March 11 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon: Gabriel's Rebellion Strikes Again! Historian, author, and director of public events and outreach for the Library of Virginia, Gregg Kimball joins us on this Pledge Drive Monday to talk about the debut of "Pinning Gabriel's Rebellion" which is a new way to make digital materials still more accessible to the public. On Wednesday, March 13th from 12noon to 1pm, historians Gregg Kimball, Michael Nicholls, and Phil Schwarz will demonstrate how a (relatively) new website HistoryPin (www.historypin.com), allows us to trace the activities and events leading up to the best-planned slave insurrection in Virginia. Learn a bit more athttp://defendersliveradio.blogspot.com/

TUES., March 12 - 7 pm - Public Knowledge Series: Prison Industrial Complex - Richmond Salon II at VCU Student Commons - Students for Social Action at VCU - - The second event in SSA's Public Knowledge Series for 2013, a forum on the Prison Industrial Complex. Panelists include: Liz Canfield- Assistant Professor: Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Dept. at VCU; Richael Faithful and/or Scott Roberts- Advancement Project: Rights Restoration & School to Prison Pipeline; Lillie Branch-Kennedy-Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (Prison Reform Advocacy); Supporting Prisoners and Acting for Radical Change (SPARC) Virginia Chapter .

WED., March 13 - Two programs to explore “Gabriel's Conspiracy” 
7 pm - “Gabriel's Conspiracy: Exploring the Richmond Slave Rebellion of 1800.” Presentations by Dr. Michael Nicholls, professor emeritus of history at Utah State University and author of “Whispers of Rebellion: Narrating Gabriel's Conspiracy,” and Dr. Philip J. Schwarz, professor emeritus of history at VCU and author of “Gabriel's Conspiracy: A Document History.” These two books will be on sale at the program. W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave.. Richmond. Presented by VCU Libraries in partnership with the Year of Freedom Committee, the VCU Department of History, the VCU Department of African American Studies and the Library of Virginia. Moderated by Omilade Janine Bell, founder/artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society and Cultural Center, member of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission. Event registration at www.library.vcu.edu/events/gabriel

Noon – 1 p.m. - "Pinning Gabriel's Rebellion" - Using the (relatively) new website HistoryPin (www.historypin.com), historians Gregg Kimball, Michael Nicholls, and Phil Schwarz will trace the activities and events leading up to the best-planned slave insurrection in Virginia. The region's geography and the library's documents are merged on the website to graphically depict the actions and aftermath of the Henrico bondsman. Presented in partnership with VCU Libraries. Lecture Hall, Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad St. Information: Ray Bonis, Archives Coordinator, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Libraries; Phone: (804) 828-1108; email: rfbonis@vcu.edu

FRI., March 15 - African American Community Course:
March 18 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon

TUES., March 19 - Join the Richmond Peace Education Center for a community forum about militarism and the U.S. defense budget. 7-9:30 p.m. in the Commons Theater on the VCU Monroe Park campus, 907 Floyd Ave., Richmond.

SAT., March 23 – 5-7 pm - “'A Thirst for Independence': Richmond's Black Community Shapes Its Emancipation" - A talk by Peter Rachleff, author of “'Black Labor in Richmond, 1865-1890.” Kitty's Grill (bring cash for drink and food; not veg friendly), 2828 Nine Mile Rd. (corner of 29th & Nine Mile in Church Hill). Free. Sponsor: Richmond, Virginia, Industrial Workers of the World. Information: Ph: 804-496-1568; Email: richmondiww@gmail.com; web: www.richmondiww.org.

March 25 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon

THURS., March 28 – New issue of The Virginia Defender. Volunteers needed to help distribute it. If interested, please call 80-4-247-3731 or email DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

SAT., March 30 - “What's behind the crisis in Mali?” - A talk in Philadelphia by Defender Ana Edwards, who was in the West African country in January when U.S.-backed French forces intervened. Ana, host of the weekly DefendersLIVE! Radio program on WRIR, is also the president of Virginia Friends of Mali. This was her third visit to the former French colony, one of the poorest countries in the world, but one with great geo-political value to the U.S. military. Sponsor: Philadelphia Chapter of the International Action Center. Information: IAC – Ph: 212.633.6646 • E-mail: iacenter@iacenter.org.

SUN., March 31 - “What's behind the crisis in Mali?” - A talk in Norfolk, Va., by Defender Ana Edwards,.4 p.m., House of Consciousness, 650 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Sponsor: Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality. Information: 804-644-5834; email: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

MON., April 1 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon

WED., April 3 - LIBERATION DAY: CELEBRATION, African Ancestral Chamber

SAT., April 6 - Civil War & Emancipation Day, sponsored by the Future of Richmond's Past. The Defenders' Sacred Ground Project will have a tent and Ana Edwards will conduct a guided tour of Richmond's African Burial Ground. Visit www.futureofrichmondspast.org for schedule of this multi-site event. 9:30 am - 5:00 pm.

THUR., April 8 - DefendersLIVE on WRIR 97.3 fm - Noon: The final vote on TRAP (Targeted  legislation by the Virginia Board of Health will take place at their meeting on April 12th. Molly Taylor Vick will discuss this critical part of the struggle for women's human and social rights.

WED., April 24 – Rally to demand freedom for U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal – Philadelphia, PA. - Mumia’s 59th Birthday.
11 am, Philadelphia’s City Hall Area, Gathering at Love Park. Rally, March, and Other Events to Be Announced. Demand freedom for Mumia now – end police terrorism.

MON., May 20 - Ashley Williams trial opens. 9 am, John Marshal Courts Building, 400 N. 9th zt., Richmond. PACK THE COURTROOM – FREE ASHLEY WILLIAMS!

27 January 2013

UNAC Statement on US Military Intervention in AFRICA

UPDATE 27 January 2013: The day the statement below was being released, the insurgent forces of the northern Mali called an end to their ceasefire and attacked the city of Douentza in central eastern Mali and quickly moved into Konna, a town further west that put them closer to the  country's second-largest airstrip strategically located in Sevare very close to Mopti. This prompted the long ready intervention of French troops which began helicopter airstrikes on January 12, launching the influx of nearly 3,700 French troops and 2,000 African troops with the expectation that up to 5,700 African troops will be in Mali in the very near future. While the northern forces seem to be in retreat, they have the territorial savvy to be able to retreat, disperse, regroup and come again. The US, which is currently transporting French troops and materiel to Bamako Senou Airport for deployment in the north, obviously providing key logistical and intelligence support for France's intervention, has also claimed unable to provide direct support to Malian forces because it has no legitimate government. That would be the same "illegitimate" government that asked France to intervene. 

So , just in case you weren't clear: MALI is at WAR.

---------------------------------------- Please read the following statement, released on January 11, 2013, by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), concerning the rapidly escalating U.S. involvement in the West African Republic of Mali.  Old heads will see the beginnings of a repeat of Vietnam, younger folks will see similarities with the now 11-year-old war in Afghanistan, and we all should be able to recognize the danger of yet another long-term, U.S. military intervention abroad, this time in Africa.

Note to our Virginian readers: The old Malian Empire was the homeland for many of the Africans stolen from their homes and forced into chattel slavery here in Virginia. Many of those interred in Richmond's African Burial Ground likely were from that region. Richmond has a sister-city relationship with Segou, Mali's second-largest city, just five hours from the recent fighting. It's a terrible situation, but the last force on earth that can resolve it is the U.S. military, which never intervenes anywhere except to promote the interests of U.S. corporations.


US sending 3500 troops to Africa

On Christmas Day, 2012 – a time when few people were paying attention to the news – the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration had decided to send some 3,500 U.S. troops early in 2013 into as many as 35 of Africa's 54 countries, claiming it is part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle “extremists” and to “give the United States a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.”

History of U.S. forces in Africa

It was a significant escalation of what has been a steadily increasing introduction of U.S. forces into the formerly colonized continent. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has devoted more and more attention to Africa, both because of its vast natural resources, consumer and government markets and historically cheap labor, and because of the U.S.' increasingly fierce competition with China both for these resources and for political influence with African countries.

On Dec. 30 the AP reported the president had sent 50 U.S. troops to Chad, “to help evacuate U.S. citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city.”

In the fall of 2011, the U.S. sent about 100 U.S. troops “to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord's Resistance Army in and around Uganda.” (CNN, Oct. 11, 2011)

That same CNN article reported the Pentagon also was “sending equipment to Central African armed forces and training a Democratic Republic of Congo light infantry battalion deployed in that country's northeast” and that the Pentagon's U.S.Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was “exploring ways to support the military of South Sudan.”

By early October 2010, the report stated, “the U.S. military had more than 1,700 troops deployed in sub-Saharan Africa,” mostly stationed in the small East African country of Djibouti, but with “at least a small presence in 33 different nations in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although AFRICOM now operates throughout Africa, its operational command center is still in Stuttgardt, Germany. That's because no African country has yet agreed to host it. The Command now may have found its de facto headquarters in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, from which it has been sending drone surveillance flights over northern Mali.

In June 2005, AFRICOM launched its five-year Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership. That was followed in 2006 with Flintlock, a now annual “regional exercise among African, Western, and U.S. counterterrorism forces.”

In February 2012, there was Atlas Accord 12, an “annual-joint-aerial-delivery exercise, hosted by U.S. Army Africa,” which “brings together U.S. Army personnel with militaries in Africa to enhance air drop capabilities and ensure effective delivery of military resupply materials and humanitarian aid.” (Website of U.S. Army Africa, AFRICOM, Feb. 10, 2012.) This took place while the Tuareg rebellion was unfolding in the north.

The arguments supporting the deployments are always the same: the presence of “Islamists” or other extremists in countries suffering from a lack of financial resources, unstable governments and internal strife – all of which, where they exist, can be traced to the legacy of Western colonialism and neocolonialism.

U.S. intervention in Mali

One country has emerged as a particular focus of interest for the U.S. military: the West African Republic of Mali.

Early in 2012, long-simmering grievances of various ethnic groups in Northern Mali erupted in a resumption of an off-and-on-again armed struggle for independence that dates back to the French colonial period. On March 21 a group of mid-level officers and rank-and-file soldiers, angered by the government's inability to effectively combat the rebellion, staged a coup, ousting the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. Prior to the coup, AFRICOM had established training programs and joint operations with the Malian army.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Tuaregs who had sought work in Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's Libya, some as soldiers in the Libyan army, were returning home to escape the anti-Black pogroms being carried out by the Western-backed “rebel” forces. Many came back with their weapons and joined the rebellion. On April 6 the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA, a military-political force representing the impoverished Tuareg people in Northern Mali, declared the northern half of the country to be a new, independent nation.

Also coming into the country were what the U.S. described as large numbers of Arab fighters who identified with forces such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), whose goal was to take control of all of Mali and impose a severe interpretation of Sharia law.

It was the presence of these outside forces that gave the U.S. and France an excuse to try and orchestrate a regional military intervention in Mali, supposedly to prevent the North from becoming a haven for terrorists. In addition, U.S. and France are both planning to send spy drones over the territory to assist in identifying targets for overt bombing missions.

However, those reports of large numbers of Islamists entering the area have been denied by the rival MNLA.

“The arrival of convoys of jihadists from Sudan and the Western Sahara are totally false,” said MNLA spokesperson Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh. “We categorically deny it.” (AFP, Oct. 22, 2012)

Even a Malian security source told the French Press Agency that there is “the arrival of new terrorists in the north of Mali,” but that claims of several hundred are “exaggerated.” (Sapa-AFP, Oct. 22, 2012)

Ignoring these objections, the U.S. and France are now making political, diplomatic and military plans to force through a U.N.-backed plan to essentially invade Mali and take control of its weak political and military infrastructure. The mechanism for the invasion would be the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional political and military alliance in which the U.S. has strong influence.

Why Mali?

Why Mali? Two reasons: oil, and the country's critical geo-political importance.

It has long been suspected that the northeastern region of Mali that borders Algeria potentially holds vast oil and gas reserves. The recent confirmation of oil reserves near Tessalit, a small Malian oasis town about 40 miles from the Algerian border, has fed Western hunger for control of that area.

The second reason for the intensifying U.S. interest is that Mali borders no less than seven West and North Africancountries, including Algeria, Niger, Senegal and Mauritania. Controlling Mali would give the U.S. an important hub from which to influence regional developments. This has been Washington's strategy for the Continent as a whole: to use economic aid and military training to develop close relationships with key governments and their militaries – such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda – so the U.S. can use them as a network of regional proxies to control all of Africa. This was the strategy that England and France used to control the Middle East after World War I, as well as the one England used with such success in India during that country's colonial period.

Meanwhile, there is not one significant force in or out of the Malian government that has called for outside intervention, whether led by the Western powers or ECOWAS.

Without a doubt, Africa has many problems – poverty, insufficient infrastructure, AIDS, high infant mortality rates and short life expectancies. Such is the legacy of the forced removal of tens of millions of its most productive people, as well as the many years of brutal and exploitative colonization.

Responsibility of antiwar movement

But Africa still is a continent of vast natural resources: gold, diamonds, uranium, oil, natural gas, fishing and agriculture. There is no reason why Africans cannot develop these resources to not only meet their own needs but to be in a position to help other impoverished peoples. But first they must have something they lost hundreds of years ago: control over their continent's riches.

The U.S. anti-war movement, which has fought so hard to oppose U.S. intervention in the Middle East and other regions of the world, must take up the long-overdue struggle to oppose U.S. intervention in Africa. We must demand the dismantling of AFRICOM. We must oppose any U.S. or European-led intervention in Mali. We must call for the withdrawal of all Western troops from the Continent. We must demand Western reparations for the unimaginable damage wrought on Africa andAfricans by centuries of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and neocolonialism.

To do any less would be to abandon our international responsibilities and our commitment to help win a just and peaceful world for all.

U.S. Out of Africa! Shut Down AFRICOM!
No Intervention in Mali!
Reparations for Centuries of Exploitation!
Money for Jobs and Education, Not for War and Occupation!


02 January 2013

Virginia People's Assembly 2013 in 3 Days!

Saturday, January 5, 2013
Wesley Memorial Church
1720 Midlothian Turnpike 

Visit vapeoplesaassembly.org for details.

WHAT IS THE VPA? The Virginia People's Assembly is an annual gathering of people from across Virginia who are engaged in a broad range of struggles. We are union members, community activists, prisoner advocates, immigrants, students, women, antiwar organizers, veterans, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the LBGTQ community – all working and fighting to win justice for our communities and constituencies. At the VPA, we find new friends and allies. We explain the issues we are involved in and hear about the struggles of others. Together we learn that the thing we hold in common – a burning desire for a better life for ourselves, our children and our communities – is far greater than anything we are told must divide us.

The 2013 VPA will be the fifth time we have come together to strengthen this movement for
Jobs, Peace and Justice.
This year, we want to make sure you are with us.
Because no one else can take your place.