Connect with us

District of Columbia

D.C. marches for voting rights, statehood joined by LGBTQ activists

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule- We know the future that we want […]”

Published

on

Thousands turned out on Aug. 28 for two separate marches in support of voting rights & D.C. statehood. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – LGBTQ activists were among the thousands who turned out in the nation’s capital on Aug. 28 for two separate marches and several rallies in support of voting rights and D.C. statehood.

Organizers of the two marches and rallies, which took place at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall among other places, timed the events to coincide with the 58th anniversary of the historic 1968 March on Washington organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“D.C.’s LGBTQIA activists and leaders were seen everywhere Saturday during the March for Voting Rights, handing out statehood signs, canvassing march participants to sign a Statehood petition, and marching to the Mall,” said lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as a program director for the D.C. statehood advocacy group D.C. Vote.

“D.C. for Democracy’s Kesh Ludduwahetty, D.C. Vote’s volunteer Dennis Jaffe, Capital Stonewall Democrats’ Jatarious Frazier are just a few of the queer activists who organized turnout and worked to make sure that the fight for the freedom includes the 700,000 D.C. residents,” Helmick said.

Helmick was referring to efforts by organizers of the Aug. 28 events to urge Congress to pass a D.C. statehood bill that the House of Representative passed earlier this year, but that is stalled in the Senate.

LGBTQ activists have joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who spoke at two of the march rallies on Aug. 28, and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who point out that D.C.’s 700,000 plus residents do not have voting representatives in the U.S. Congress unlike residents of the 50 states.

Also stalled in the Senate are two voting rights bills passed by the House this year that supporters say are aimed at countering as many as 30 laws approved by Republican-controlled legislatures in at least a dozen states that restrict voting by making it harder for minorities to turn out to the polls.

One of the bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, is named after the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). 

“After almost 60 years after John Lewis almost died on the Edmund Pettis Bridge for voting rights, we’re here one more time fighting for voting rights” said Randi Weingarten, the out lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers, in remarks on the National Mall at the rally for the March On For Washington and Voting Rights.

Weingarten was referring to the Sunday protest march in the early 1960s that Lewis organized in Georgia for voting rights in which he and other marchers were beaten by Georgia State Troopers as he led the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday.

At the same Aug. 28 rally on the National Mall this past Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who this year became the nation’s first openly gay African-American member of Congress, gave an impassioned speech calling on his fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden, to push for an end to the Senate filibuster, which Jones said will otherwise be used to kill the voting rights bills.

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule,” Jones told those attending the rally. “This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government,” he said to loud cheers.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing—that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis,” Jones continued. “But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House we must act. Yes—the White House,” he said.

“Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a president of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’”

Jones added, “We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster…And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today – to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People [voting rights] Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) speaks at the March On for Voting Rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following is a transcript of most of Rep. Jones’ speech at the March On For Washington and Voting Rights rally on Aug. 28:

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule. This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing: that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis. But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House, we must act. Yes: The White House . . . Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a President of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’

“We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster. [Applause]

“If we fail to act in this moment, we are on a path by which democracy dies in darkness.” 

“Allow me to paint a picture of that dark future for you, if you will.

“Thanks to partisan Gerrymandering, first the party of Donald Trump will take back control of the House next year, even as Democrats continue to win more votes nationwide.

[Member of the audience yells “Hell no!”]

“Hell no, indeed. Let us make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The party of Donald Trump will also take back the United States Senate with voter suppression in states like Georgia. We gotta make sure that Raphael Warnock comes back to the United States Senate. [Applause]

“The party of Donald Trump under the status quo will win back the presidency in the year 2024 whether because of voter suppression, the anti-democratic Electoral College or because red states have had success in overturning the results of free and fair elections.

“The Supreme Court, which is already under radical right-wing control, will do nothing to stop any of this. The GOP’s two stolen seats will ensure that happens.

“We will all feel the consequences of far-right minority rule. Power will continue to concentrate in the hands of a few. Corporations will continue to deny science and pillage our planet as we will hurtle full speed towards final catastrophe.

“Wealth inequality will widen while the tax bills of the super-rich continue to shrink. They will spend billions to send themselves into space while people on earth starve.

“The cost of housing, healthcare, education will grow even further out of reach for everyday Americans. Civil rights and civil liberties will continue to erode, and our government will have learned nothing from the murder of George Floyd last year.

[Audience: “Shame! Shame!]

“Shame, indeed. Shame . . . shame.

“The next pandemic under the status quo of voter suppression, where people who believe in science are denied the opportunity to serve in government, will rage uncontrolled: causing massive, preventable suffering. And our government, the federal government, captured by powerful special interests and insulated from the will of the American people: the will of all of you, will remain indifferent to that suffering.

“My friends, that road is dark. I don’t want to go down that road. I know that none of you want to go down that road. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way, does it? We are not powerless to stop it. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve a long-held promise of a permanent, multi-racial democracy. A democracy where your vote, and everyone’s vote, matters because we’ve ended the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. Where you never have to worry about whether yourself or your friends and family are registered to vote because they are registered automatically. Where you don’t need to justify exercising your right to vote by mail. Amen?

“Where teachers and bartenders who aspire to run for office can mount competitive campaigns even if they don’t come from money or from a political family. Where candidates for office make their cases to, We the People where they deserve our support rather than being anointed by billionaires and corporations. Where elections are won by uplifting voters rather than suppressing their votes.

“That is a democracy where the American people are in charge, not a select powerful few. Where every voice and every vote matters. It is a promise that is every bit as worth fighting for as it was when heroes like Dr. King, Byard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson and John Lewis and so many others fought for our right to vote and for dignity. And in several instances took to these steps in the year 1963. And it is an opportunity that we have never been closer to grasping.

“The senate, as you know, could bring about this vision tomorrow, couldn’t it? But a small handful of senators are standing in our way. These senators cling to the dangerous delusion that ten Republican senators of good conscience are somehow going to join in the fight for democracy when we couldn’t even get a Republican to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act a few days ago.

“Even as we fall further into crisis, these senators have found comfort in a White House that has failed to call for an end to the Jim Crow filibuster. So, I’m here to tell you that power concedes nothing without a demand. And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today: to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“We know the future that we want for ourselves, for our families, for our country. And we aren’t going to wait until that future is won.

“Thank you so much.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

District of Columbia

Plea bargain in DC Trans murder case results in 8 year prison term

Under D.C. law, a conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a possible maximum sentence of 30 years

Published

on

Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds (Facebook)

WASHINGTON – A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday sentenced two of four men originally charged with first-degree murder while armed for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a street in Northeast Washington to eight years in jail and five years of supervised probation upon their release.

The sentence by Judge Milton C. Lee came a little over two months after Jalonta Little, 31, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, agreed through their attorneys to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors allowing them to plead guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for the murder charge and related gun violation charges to be dropped.

The plea agreement included a promise by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for D.C. to ask the judge for a sentence of eight years incarceration. Under D.C. law, a conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a possible maximum sentence of 30 years.

As expected by court observers, Lee gave Little and Johnson full credit for the time they have already served in jail since their arrest. Johnson has been held without bond for five years and six months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held for four years and 10 months since the time of his arrest in February 2017.

Lee also agreed to a request by prosecutors to issue a court stay away order prohibiting Johnson and Little from going to the areas where they targeted Dodds and other trans women for armed robberies on the night of Dodds’ murder. Their targeting of trans women, some of whom were sex workers, prompted D.C. police to list the Dodds murder as a hate crime, a designation that was dropped by Lee during the 2019 trial on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Lee sentenced Johnson to an additional 150 days in jail for an unrelated charge, to which he pled guilty, of Attempted Unlawful Possession of Contraband into a Penal Institution. Court records show that Johnson and another inmate at the D.C. jail were charged in September of this year with actual possession of the illegal contraband after the two stabbed each other with make-shift, knife-like objects while fighting.

Court records show Johnson was treated at a hospital for multiple, non-life threatening stab wounds in connection with the incident. Prosecutors agreed to lower the charge to attempted possession of unlawful contraband in exchange for Johnson’s agreement to plead guilty. Lee ordered that the additional sentence for Johnson of 150 days must be carried out consecutively to the 8-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Both Lee and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Donovan, the lead prosecutor in the case, pointed out that Friday’s sentencing followed a March 2019 trial for Little and Johnson on the first-degree murder charges in the Dodds case that ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the murder charges.

At the request of prosecutors, another trial for Little and Johnson on the murder was scheduled a short time later, but for reasons not disclosed in the public court records, the second trial was postponed several times and eventually cancelled after the plea bargain agreement was reached in September of this year.

The two other men charged in the Dodds murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial for Johnson and Little in which they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. They each testified as government witnesses at Johnson and Little’s trial, with Cyheme Hall testifying that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after she attempted to fight back when he and Johnson attempted to rob her.

Similar to Johnson and Little, the Hall brothers have been held without bond since the time of their arrests. They are schooled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not publicly disclosed why they chose to offer the plea deal rather than bring Little and Johnson to trial again on the murder charge. Attorneys familiar with criminal cases have said prosecutors sometime offer a plea deal after determining that going to trail a second time could result in a not-guilty verdict based on the circumstances of the case.

Lee raised this issue in Friday’s sentencing hearing when he asked prosecutor Donovan to explain the recommendation of an 8-year prison sentence rather than a longer one.

“Obviously, an individual lost their life during the circumstances that gave rise to the charge here in the first trial that we had,” Lee told Donovan. “Can you tell me why, from the government’s perspective, do you think this particular sentence here agreed upon by the parties — eight years — do you think it’s an appropriate sentence under the circumstances that we’re aware of?” Lee asked.

“Your honor, we believe that this takes into consideration the first trial and the evidentiary difficulties that were highlighted during the first trial and other incidents that occurred during the first trial,” Donovan told Lee. “And that taking everything into consideration and considering the goal of sentencing obviously is to address the family and the community by trying to cross the sentence against the facts and circumstances in a particular case,” Donovan said. “And we believe that taking all of that into consideration that it is an appropriate sentence.”

Prior to handing down his sentence, Lee also mentioned that he received a community impact statement on the Dodds murder from the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project. The attorneys representing Little and Johnson said their clients saw the community impact statement. Neither of them raised any objections to the statement. The statement was not read or released at the hearing.

The Anti-Violence Project had not responded to a request by the Washington Blade last week for a copy of the statement as of the time of Friday’s hearing.

In a separate statement provided to the Blade last week, Anti-Violence Project Chair Stephania Mahdi expressed strong objections to the terms of the plea bargain offer by prosecutors.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to eight communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

D.C. Trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years in a plea deal

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter is a miscarriage of justice”

Published

on

Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

WASHINGTON – A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Duke Ellington School of Arts postpones renaming theater after Chappelle

In a statement released on Friday, the school said it would go ahead with the renaming at a ceremony rescheduled for April 22, 2022

Published

on

Dave Chappelle performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Aug. 19, 2017. (Photo by Mathieu Bitton)

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts announced on Friday that it has postponed for five months its plan to rename its theater after comedian Dave Chappelle, a graduate of the acclaimed performing arts high school, following complaints about his comments about LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, in a Netflix special program.

The school initially said it would hold a ceremony to rename the theater after Chappelle, one of its most famous alumni, on Nov. 23. In a statement released on Friday, the school said it would go ahead with the renaming at a ceremony rescheduled for April 22, 2022.

In the statement, the school said Chappelle’s Netflix stand-up special, The Closer, “contains controversial material juxtaposing discrimination against Black Americans with that against non-Black members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement adds that holding the event this month “without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington community would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment.”

The Washington Post reports that LGBTQ organizations, Netflix employees and some Duke Ellington students, including LGBTQ students, have criticized Chappelle’s comments about LGBTQ people in his Netflix special The Closer.

“We have engaged in listening sessions with our students and have allowed space for diverse viewpoints,” the statement released by the school says. “We are committed to fostering a community where every individual feels both heard and supported.”

“We recognize that not everyone will accept or welcome a particular artist’s point of view, product or craft, but reject the notion that a ‘cancel culture’ is a healthy or constructive means to teach our students how society should balance creative freedom with protecting the rights and dignity of all its members.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular