By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—The Rev. R.B. Holmes, a civil rights leader and pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is heading up a task force of 40 ministers to undertake a 12-point action plan to revitalize the black community, taking on issues ranging from the repeal of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Holmes made the announcement here recently at a news conference at the National Press Club.
“In our 12 Point Action Plan, we will take the leadership to save our boys and girls, to build schools in our own neighborhoods, to repeal and repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws across America, to support historically black colleges and universities, and the importance of business ownership and the significance of marriage and the family,” said Holmes.
He said the action plan also includes evangelism, renewable energy and preservation, restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, social justice, advocating for veterans, health care support and increasing the minimum wage.
Holmes also announced plans to run for president of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc., “the nation’s oldest and largest African American religious convention with an estimated membership of 7.5 million,” according to the group’s website. The election is Sept. 4.
“In a time when it seems more popular to be a celebrity than a servant, we stand behind Dr. Holmes with great expectations,” said the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. “Jesus gave the clear indication that if you want to be great all you have to do is serve.”
Bryant said that historically, the black church has always been on the front line, giving a voice to the voiceless.
“Historically, it has always been the voice of a black Baptist preacher to correct America and to put us back on track, historically it has always been the voice of a black Baptist preacher speak truth to power, uncompromising and in the words of Hosea Williams ‘unbought and unbossed.’”
(“Unbought and Unbossed” is also the title of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography, published 40 years ago).
Bryant said that something has to be done to repeal “Stand Your Ground laws” that basically empowers a person to use deadly force if they merely perceive that their life is in danger.
“We hoped that government would do it, but they have not. We hoped that legislators would do it, but they would not. Whenever there has been real change in America it has whenever there has been real change in America it has always been under the leadership of a preacher,” said Bryant. “Under the leadership of a preacher who did not need banquet tickets to the governor’s mansion, who did not need a reserve parking spaces to be seen in front of the camera, because we understand that the real movement is not a sound bite, a real movement is about what we do after the benediction.”
The so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws have been enacted in nearly two dozen states and research has shown that the laws disproportionately affects blacks.
A study on justifiable homicides by the Urban Institute found that White-on-Black homicides are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than a Black-on-White homicide and is ‘Stand Your Ground’ states that disparity is greater.
In addition being accompanied by other ministers, Holmes was flanked by parents of high-profile children personally affected by Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws.
“[Stand Your Ground] laws target black males. Black and brown boys do not benefit from the Stand Your Ground laws,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was profiled, shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a White Hispanic neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.
Fulton applauded the work of the new task force.
“It’s bringing the conversation to the table. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, because it’s an uncomfortable subject, but we need to bring it to the table, we need to talk about it, so that we can resolve these issues,” she said.
Phyllis Giles, mother of Michael Giles, said that the role that the “Stand Your Ground” law plays in court cases is unfair and often carries racial undertones.
In 2010, Michael Giles, a 26-year-old active duty United States airmen went to a Tallahassee nightclub with some friends. When a brawl broke out at the club, Giles was separated from his friends. Giles had a concealed weapons permit for a gun he had in his car. As he searched the raucous crowd for his friends, someone punched Giles in the face knocking him to the ground. Fearing for his life, Giles pulled out his gun and fired, striking his attacker in the leg.
Giles was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder. Witnesses supported Giles claim and his lawyers argued that he was justified in using deadly force. Even though the married father of three, who served two tours in the Middle East didn’t have a criminal record, the jury decided against him. Giles was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon that cost Giles his career and is serving a mandatory sentence of twenty years in prison.
Phyllis Giles said that it’s important for the community to come together to address the disparities associated with the “Stand Your Ground” law and Black ministers should lead the charge.
It starts in the church and it will end in the church and God will bring it all together, said Giles.
Ron Davis said that he hopes that Holmes’ efforts lead to reforms in the SYG laws in Florida.
“If you don’t file for ‘Stand Your Ground’ you shouldn’t get the benefit of ‘Stand Your Ground’ in a self-defense case in the jury instructions,” said Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, the Jacksonville, Fla., teen who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a white computer programmer who objected to the volume of music playing in the SUV carrying Davis and his friends in November 2012.
Holmes’ group also wants to make sure that aggressors in deadly altercations can’t rely on murky “Stand Your Ground” laws in court.
Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense, but didn’t rely on the “Stand Your Ground” law in court. Davis said that shooters often go free, because of confusing instructions that judges give to juries in self-defense cases that include “Stand Your Ground” language.
A bill that would amend the current law in Florida is slowly working its way through the Florida state legislature. The bill seeks to clearly define who can use the “Stand Your Ground” defense and would also allow law enforcement to set policies governing neighborhood watch groups.
Davis said that it’s important that pastors get involved in the fight to repeal or repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, because when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other pastors stood up in the 1960s, it really made a difference.
“That’s why we don’t have to drink out of the ‘colored’ water fountains, that’s why we don’t have to sit on the back of the bus,” said Davis. “People forget that these were pastors getting their heads busted for better civil rights, so we need the pastors on the front line again.”