Diverse community members and organizations brought nothing but love to CEMOTAP’s support rally for John White and his family Despite the sweltering heat, Nazarene Congregational Church was packed with supporters. John White sat humbly in the first pew, with his wife Sonia and sons Nahshon and Aaron directly behind him. Rev. Conrad Tillard, Dr. James McIntosh and Betty Dopson warmly welcomed the gatherers.
Dr. Leonard Jeffries, said”Looking at our history as a people, we have never deserved what has happened to us over the past 500 years. We have shown we are resilient, we have the ability to restore ourselves, we have the ability to overcome the greatest of obstacles. That tradition will still hold with the John White family and the work we can do to help them succeed. I hope the governor would find the strength to do what the system can’t do – the judicial system and the Black leadership can’t do because they are trying to find a niche in the system of white supremacy – hopefully the governor will surprise everybody and do the right thing.” Jeffries was referring to the governor’s power to grant pardons.
Attorney-at-War Alton Maddox likened John White’s situation to that of Emmet Till. “We can’t really defend John White until we can put ourselves in his shoes. No one can explain to you what this brother is going through. Trying to still maintain a family. Trying to maintain a home dealing with mounting legal expenses. Trying to deal with the continuing racism that he has to face.”
“Some people believe you don’t have the right to take a white man’s life or a white boy’s life, I don’t care what the circumstances are,” said Maddox. “There are some people who still have the mindset of Money, Mississippi, the place where Emmett Till found his fate. I’ve been concerned with the lack of present memory of what happened August 28,1955, some 55 years later. It opened our eyes to a different kind of atrocity. I was thinking about what would have happened if John White had been Emmett Till’s uncle, and they had come to John White’s house looking for his nephew. And the level of consciousness that he had and the love that he had as opposed to brother White. We may have still had Emmett Till with us.”
Maddox said, “We are here in the midst of a hero. Somebody who not only had the right to kill anybody who trespasses on his house, threaten to rape his wife and kill his son. He had the obligation. And he exercised that as any other human being would do. We are the only people in the world where somebody is prosecuted for the human right or animal right of self-defense. We are the only ones. This brother finds himself in this predicament.”
Connecting John White’s situation to the political process, Maddox said ‘”This issue goes back to our being in the Democratic Party -the party of Thomas Jefferson who authored the Notes on Virginia, which in his mind had us so down on the totem pole, that even Benjamin Banneker had to respond to his de-humanization of us. And Andrew Jackson, who gave us Justice Roger Tatum, who gave us the Dred Scott decision, which is still the law of the land today, because the 14th amendment was never ratified. Had the 14th amendment been ratified, John White wouldn’t be sitting here today. Because he would be celebrated as a hero. But because we do not really understand what is at stake, we continue to finance the Democratic Party. The Lord works in mysterious ways. What that really meant was the Lord works in certain ways. Sometimes you don’t focus in on what the target appears to be, but you focus on something other than the target that actually connects what you are focusing on to the target.
Maddox believes “We have our next best chance in organizing a Freedom Party. The only remedy for brother White today is in the political process. We can’t trust the courts. We couldn’t trust the 2nd Judicial Department, which affirmed the opinion of the lower court. We can’t trust the NY Court of Appeals. We certainly can’t trust the U.S. Supreme Court. What we can trust is ourselves. We have the power. If we misuse it, we are going to kill the hopes and dreams of future generations if we use it wrong. Hopefully, we will support this family until justice has been accomplished. This should be a continued commitment, not only to John White, but to what has been always our two major problems in the United States: the right of free speech and the right to bear arms. This case represents Negroes with guns.”
Omowale Clay spoke on behalf of the December 12 Movement. He said “The hardest thing for a young Black man to do is to grow into a man. Black men have the responsibility to teach manhood to young warriors.” He asked, “Is the issue guns or Black hands on guns? We stand and represent our people all the way back to slave ships. Cowardice is something that is nurtured. We have been trained to act in a way that is opposed to the interests of our people.”
Clay said, “When your son comes to you in danger and threatened, ask yourself, ‘Will I have what it takes?’ We have the right to defend ourselves, our family, and our children. Anyone who violates that has a problem.”
Looking directly at John White, Clay said “To us, you are our hero. We say to your family, we honor and respect you. Your character has taught many Black men how to be men. We won’t forget that.”
Michael Greys, from 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, gave an eloquent account of the series of events John White found himself immersed in. “Imagine yourself in John White’s shoes for one hour, Greys said. “Just last week, the Suffolk County prosecutor was still trying to put White in jail.”
The story according to Greys: “His son was at a party. Using Aaron’s name, so-called friend Longo put something on MySpace suggesting sexual desires for a young white woman. At the party, the young white girl was uncomfortable. Aaron was asked to leave, and he did. En route, Aaron got a call from five armed young men who instructed him to ‘be in front of your house when we get there’. But Aaron said to himself, ‘I have a father.’ Aaron woke his father out of his sleep while putting his phone on speaker. John White heard the young men threaten to rape his wife and kill his son. John told his wife to call 911. Concerned for the well-being of her husband and son, she did not. Meanwhile, John went into the garage to get his gun (it was not kept in the house). John then ordered the drunken young men to move off his property. One of the young men, who had weapons (bats) said ‘What you gonna do, you old skinny nigger?’ John White was able to back them from his house to the curb. John turned his back to go back to his house. Ciccero came behind John and tried to take the weapon. It discharged, hitting Ciccero in the head.” Greys said, “Ciccero caused his own death, with help from his friends. The hospital is a 10-12 minute drive from White’s house, yet Ciccero’s friends took more than an hour to get him to the hospital. The court is supposed to be the tryer of facts. The court never asked why they took an hour or more to get to the hospital.”
According to Greys, Cicero’s friends were allowed to diminish the role they played in the incident. “They testified against John White,” said Greys, “The court treated them as witnesses. They were not charged with threatening or menacing.” (According to published reports, Ciccero’s friends were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony.) “John White was told he should have stayed in his house and wait for Suffolk County Police,” Greys said. He then asked, “Do we have the right to defend ourselves?”
Greys described the court atmosphere during White’s trial. Minister Abdul Haffiz, formerly Kevin Muhammad, from Harlem’s Mosque #7, and members of both the Nation of Islam and the Fruit of Islam, attended the trial, as well as members of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care attended the trial regularly, and sat between John White and the family and friends of Ciccero. “Every day after court, Blacks were kept in the court, while the whites were allowed to leave. They let the whites clear the corridor and go to their cars,” Greys said. “When the all clear signal came from the parking lot, the Blacks were allowed to leave. After John White’s sentencing, Ciccero’s father told reporters ‘Wait until Aaron gets shot.'”
“John White’s life is valuable. John White’s family’s life is valuable,” Greys said. “If we lose this opportunity, the entire country is in trouble.”
Gubernatorial candidate Charles Barron said “Racism id no the badge. It is easy to see racism in police brutality. Racism is also in the budget. We can’t just organize around symptoms. If the machine is producing unemployment, homelessness, inadequate health care, police brutality, and mis-education, we need to use leverage politics to change the system,” said Barron. “We can pick, choose, or be the next people in powerful positions.”
Labor activist Brenda Stokely spoke of her grandfather and grandmother, both of whom had to violently defend themselves against being lynched. Stan Kinnard referenced Robert Williamson’s book “Negroes with Guns” and Malcolm X’s “Ballot or Bullet” speech and recalled Mayor Koch applauding Bernard Goetz, who shot several Black youths on a NYC subway.
The rally raised more than $6,000 in cash and checks for the John White family and another $6,000 in pledges.
Flanked by his family, John White thanked 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the Nation of Islam, CEMOTAP, and “all the people who came to our aid and support. I give all honor and glory to God.”