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Hundreds Attend Airman Roger Fortson's Funeral

May 21, 2024

AirmanRogerFortsonwithlittlesister

Airman Roger Fortson with his little sister

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from BlackMansStreet.Today

(TriceEdneyWire.com/BlackMansStreet.Today) - Hundreds of Air Force members in dress blues joined Roger Fortson‘s family, friends, and others at a suburban Atlanta megachurch on Friday to pay their final respects to the Black senior airman, who was shot and killed in his Florida home earlier this month by a sheriff’s deputy.

People lined up well before the start of the service at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest to file past the open coffin and say their goodbyes to Fortson, who was shot six times by a deputy responding to a May 3 call about a possible domestic violence situation at Fortson’s apartment complex in the Florida Panhandle. He was 23.

Fortson’s face and upper body were visible in his Air Force uniform, with an American flag draped over the lower part of the coffin. After viewing the body, many mourners paused to hug one another.

“As you can see from the sea of Air Force blue in front of me, I am not alone in my admiration of Senior Airman Fortson,” Col. Patrick Dierig told mourners.

“We would like to take credit for making him great, but the truth is that he was great before he came to us,” said Dierig, who commands the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Florida, where Fortson was stationed.

Fortson grew up in the Atlanta area before he joined the Air Force. He was a senior airman who served in overseas combat zones and was stationed at Hurlburt when the deputy killed him.

The funeral came a day after Fortson’s mother vowed to get justice for her son.

At a news conference held by the family and their lawyer, Ben Crump, Chantemekki Fortson spoke glowingly about how her son had always stayed on a positive path and had never been in trouble or shown signs of violence.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office was responding to a reported disturbance between a man and woman in the apartment building, and a responding deputy shot Fortson, who was Black, multiple times in the chest, according to police radio communications. When the deputy arrived, Fortson was seated at a table in his home; he was on a FaceTime call with his girlfriend, discussing Cinco de Mayo.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on Thursday called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to release its findings on the police shooting of Fortson. 

“Senior Airman Fortson was a son, brother, friend, and patriot who should still be with his family today,” the CBC said in a statement. “He was an Air Medal recipient who served our nation honorably, and we are forever grateful for his heroism and service.”

Guinness Designation Sheds Light on Untold Story of Black Civil War Soldiers by Amber V. Smith

May 25, 2024

FrankSmithatAACivilWarMuseum

Dr. Frank Smith, founding director, African American Civil War Memorial

 AA Civil War Memorial

African American Civil War Memorial sits in front of the wall with the names of the 209,000 Black Union soldiers and their White officers.  The Guinness Book of World Records has declared the Memorial as having the “most names on a war memorial.”

(TriceEdneyWire.com) - One of the nation’s most significant war memorials sits at the top of the U Street Corridor Metro exit in Washington, DC, oddly planted in front of a few houses and an office building. You could almost miss it among the daily raucous in the neighborhood.

Earlier this year, on the first day of Black History Month, the Guinness Book of World Records declared the African American Civil War Memorial as having the “most names on a war memorial”. Located in Northwest D.C. at 1925 Vermont Ave.,the memorial lists the names of more than 209,000 Black Union soldiers and their White officers.

It’s a recognition that tells a much deeper story.

“For more than 25 years we’ve worked hard to tell the story of these important soldiers,” said Dr. Frank Smith, founding director of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation. “Their stories have been forgotten by this country and this international designation helps the world understand its importance.”

Smith says it was not until his teenage years that he learned of the contributions of African Americans during the Civil War. Since then, he has made it his life’s mission to bring awareness about the Black soldiers who fought for a country that did not even consider them humans, let alone Americans.

“They didn’t teach us this in school when I was growing up. We didn’t learn Black people, who weren’t even free, were putting their lives on the line for this country. Many of them were fighting for the opportunity just to fight for this country,” said Smith.

At the start of the Civil War, abolitionist Frederick Douglass tried to persuade President Abraham Lincoln that enlisting Black soldiers in the Union would help the North win the war and would be an important step toward equality in the nation.

Douglass argued, “Once let the Black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Lincoln, however, was not convinced. He feared that granting African Americans their freedom, specifically former or escaped slaves, would drive the border states to join the Confederacy. It took signs of the Union possibly losing the war for Lincoln to change his stance and allow African Americans to enlist.

The passage of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act in 1862 was the first step toward enlisting African American soldiers in the Union Army. The law did not explicitly invite African Americans to join the war, but rather, it granted Lincoln permission to employ African Americans in the army as he deemed fit.

Still, African Americans saw this as their opportunity to join the battlefield in hopes of gaining their freedom, often forming their own infantry units. The Civil War’s official call for Black soldiers was not issued until 1863. Thousands of African Americans answered the call, many of whom escaped enslavement from the Confederate states to join the fight.

“People don’t know [Lincoln] didn’t even want us fighting in the war,” said journalist and Black historian Peter Bailey. “That’s the story they didn’t want us to know. They kept that story hidden from us for hundreds of years.”

Bailey explained how Black soldiers were fighting a war on multiple fronts. They were not only fighting to end slavery but were persistently confronted with racism by White Union soldiers who believed Black soldiers weren’t as brave or skilled. They were also at risk of being enslaved or executed on the spot if they were captured during battle.

By the end of the war, about 180,000 Black soldiers–10 percent of the Union Army–fought in the war. About 90,000 of those soldiers were former enslaved people from the Confederate states.

Smith and Bailey agree that the untold grueling; yet courageous experiences of Black Union soldiers is why the Guinness recognition is so important and impactful.

“It shows clearly that this country did not give us freedom the way it’s always been portrayed that it was,” said Bailey. “We [gained] our freedom because Black soldiers played a major role in defeating the Confederacy. That had been ignored for centuries and even today, it doesn’t get as much attention as it should.”

As of today, there has been no official acknowledgment of the designation by any federal government agency. Smith, however, says he’s not too concerned about the lack of acknowledgment. While the memorial serves as a poignant symbol of African Americans’ contributions to this country, it is still intended to be a tourist attraction. Smith hopes the recognition will attract more visitors to the location.

“People travel all over the world visiting destinations referenced by the Guinness Book of World Records,” Smith says. “My hope is that we’ll attract more international visitors who will learn that African Americans were not just bystanders in the fight for freedom. We put our lives on the line for it.”

Police Shoots, Kills an Air Force Service Member in His Apartment

May 14, 2024

Airman Roger FortsonSenior Airman Roger Fortson was shot and killed by police.

 

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from BlackMansStreet.Today

(TriceEdneyWire.com/BlackMansStreet.Today) - An attorney for the family of a Florida special operations airman who was shot and killed in his home by a local
police officer said Wednesday that officers responding to a reported disturbance may have entered the wrong apartment.

Senior Airman Roger Fortson, 23, who was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, was alone in his Fort Walton Beach, Florida, apartment on May 3 when police burst through the door and fatally shot him six times, according to Ben Crump, an attorney representing Fortson's family.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office was responding to a reported disturbance between a man and woman in the apartment building, and a responding deputy shot Fortson, who was Black, multiple times in the chest, according to police radio communications.

"The circumstances surrounding Roger's death raise serious questions that demand immediate answers from authorities, especially considering the alarming witness statement that the police entered the wrong apartment," Crump said. "The narrative released by law enforcement, which falsely suggests that Roger posed a threat, is deeply troubling and inconsistent with the details provided by that witness: Roger was home alone, causing no disturbance, when his life was tragically cut short by law enforcement."

The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the attorney's claims.

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz issued a statement on Friday about the fatal shooting of an airman killed by an Okaloosa deputy. 

“The killing of Airman Roger Fortson in my community continues to be a source of deep sadness. As the investigation continues, I think one thing is clear from the body cam and should be stated unequivocally: Roger did not deserve to die. He did nothing wrong," Gaetz said.

Fortson lived in an off-base residence, and his special operations squadron at Hurlburt Field in the Florida panhandle flies AC-130J Ghostrider gunships.

Crump said there was no disturbance and that Fortson was home alone on a video call with another person, who reported the airman heard a knock on the door.

Fortson, according to the witness, asked, "Who is it?" But he didn't receive an answer. After a subsequent "aggressive" second knock and seeing no one through the peephole, Fortson grabbed his legally owned gun, Crump detailed.

As Fortson was walking back to his living room, police entered the apartment and shot him. He reportedly said, "I can't breathe" while on the ground after being shot, Crump said, repeating a witness account of the event.

Military.com reviewed publicly available police radio audio that reported a call for a disturbance at an apartment complex at 319 Racetrack Road around 4:30 p.m. local time.

"We don't have anything beyond a male and female; it's all fourth-party information from the front desk at the leasing office," a deputy said on the radio.

A few minutes later, another deputy called in to report "shots fired, suspect down" and called for emergency medical services.

"Multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, Black male," another deputy chimes in shortly after. Fortson was shot six times, Crump said in his statement.

No other details, including the circumstances of the disturbance that prompted the local deputies to visit the apartment building, were released. Fortson was taken to an area hospital, where he later died. No officers were harmed in the incident.

Fortson joined the Air Force on Nov. 19, 2019, according to a copy of his service record provided to Military.com. He joined as an AC-130J gunner. Crump added that Fortson graduated from high school with honors and had no criminal record.

The deputy involved was not identified in the news release and was "placed on paid administrative leave" pending the outcome of an investigation and administrative review, the sheriff's office said.

"I immediately placed the deputy on administrative leave and have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the investigation required in such incidents," Sheriff Eric Aden said.

The State Attorney's Office will also conduct an independent review. At this time, we humbly ask for our community's patience as we work to understand the facts that resulted in this tragic event."

The sheriff's office declined to provide Military.com with the original 911 call and the police report on the incident, citing "the ongoing active investigation" in an emailed response.

There is Power in the Neglected Majority By Dr. Barbara Reynolds

May 15, 2024

NEWS ANALYSIS

Dr. William Barber

Dr. William Barber

(TriceEdneyWire.com) - Sometimes things make so much sense, it is difficult to comprehend why they have never fully happened before or why this just might be the time when it does. Certainly, organizing the poor, the neglected majority in this nation easily comes to mind.

 Rev. William Barber II recently laid out plans to revisit mobilizing  poor and low-income voters to become a powerful force for change in future elections.  His national call for a Moral March on Washington and to the polls  is scheduled for Saturday June 29, 2024, in Washington D.C. 

In a packed house address in the nation’s Capital, the activist leader inspired supporters by stressing the miraculous consequences that could come from  just 20 percent of poor and low-income voters who didn’t vote in 2020 going to the polls this year,   “We would have the power to sway elections in every state. ‘’ He pointed out that one third of the electorate , 85 million people, are poor or low income.

When you think about it the poor and low wage  workers qualify as a suffering, neglected majority, a sleeping giant. Among them are those suffering from inadequate health and housing options; families  where one in six of their  children in this country are often hungry,  the 105 million people who do not have paid family and medical leave, a third of the workforce or 52 million people who earn less than $15 an hour, the seven million who were behind in rent or housing payments in December, 2023 and the 46 million who don’t have access to safe drinking water.

 In his remarks Barber  stressed that the call for moral and political revival  crosses the barriers of  race, gender, , blue states, red states, young and old.  To him, the crisis affecting the poor and low income has become so egregious that traditional barriers can be overcome .

 If that is true, then why are marginalized people not voting their strength?  Barber believes a key factor comes from politicians and political campaigns  not speaking to their issues. He told me “Not one of the 15 presidential debates in 2020 devoted even 30 minutes to poverty, the 4th leading cause of death in the USA, even though long -term poverty claims 295,000 lives annually more than homicide, gun violence, diabetes.’’

 He echoed  an often- heard complaint about how political monologues about democracy or dictatorship often do not connect to those living in daily crises. The concerns he said that should be addressed are the seven million people on the edge of eviction, the estimated  600,000 people living in chronic homelessness, the lack of job training for the millions that artificial intelligence will claim their jobs and  how much needed food stamps have recently been cut or abolished for  low income people and especially seniors.

 Another major issue he cited, is how the Poor People’s campaign continues its work on voter rights, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has joined him on voter drives and his Rainbow Coalition, which  elevated many neglected vote blocs through his run for president. “ We are living in a moment when 49 states have filed over 400 voter suppression bills; 17 states have passed voter restrictions since 2020. And we see the connection between this attack on voting rights and all the other issues that impact the 140 million poor and low-income people in this country.”

 Barber stresses that his movement  is committed to non-violence and underscores the need for a resurrection of justice, love, and truth—not an insurrection of injustice, lies and hate.   His moral revival has been backed by 25 coalition members, including the National Council of Churches, which represents 38 member communions and over 40 million individuals –100,000 congregations from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Living Peace traditions such as the Kairos Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice,  the Transformation Justice Coalition and Black Women for Political Change.  

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Virginia Legislature Confirms Life-Saving Budget Decisions This Week

Virginia Legislature Confirms Life-Saving Budget Decisions This Week

Commonwealth Leading the Nation on Black Men and Women Battling Cancer
By Hazel Trice Edney
 
Benjamin J. Lambert IV

Benjamin J. Lambert IV died 5 years ago at 52 after his insurance denied him proton therapy for prostate cancer.

 
(TriceEdneyWire.com) - Medical eyes are trained on Virginia as Black women from Hampton Roads have become the focus of a new cancer study led by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
 
The ACS has announced the study, called “Voices of Black Women” to determine why Black women have the greatest cancer risks and worse outcomes than other women. An ACS press release says the new study is the largest study of cancer risk and outcomes in Black women in the United States.
 
The ACS study on Black women has been announced just as the Virginia General Assembly meets in a special session this week to confirm the commonwealth’s budget. Advocates against cancer treatment disparities are hoping for the legislature’s attention to the Hampton University Proton Cancer Institute.
 
In Virginia, the city of Portsmouth has the highest African-American cancer death rates in the state. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the risk of Black men dying from low-grade prostate cancer nationally is “double that of men of other races” and Black men. The city of Petersburg, Virginia, leads the nation with Black men dying from prostate cancer.  Hampton University, and HBCU, is less than an hour away.
 
Late last year, Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares wrote a strong opinion praising the work of the university’s proton center and confirming that insurers in the Commonwealth are prohibited from denying coverage for proton therapy for cancer treatment when the coverage determination “is based on the carrier’s application of a higher standard of clinical evidence to such treatment than is used for treatments it otherwise approves.”
 
The opinion was welcomed by many who had observed or experienced denials of insurance coverage for the treatment. Some, including Benjamin J. Lambert IV, the son of a former Virginia senator. Lambert died at 52 on June 7, 2019, leaving a wife and two children, after his insurance initially denied the treatment.
 
It is believed that Miyares’ opinion will now have far-reaching implications for proton therapy and for the future of insurance coverage for advanced medical treatments with budgets that reflect the need for urgent care.
 
Bill Thomas, associate vice president of governmental relations at Hampton University and a leading national advocate for proton therapy, said, “To help save one life from death or human suffering is worth all the fight in me. For an insurance company not to cover proton radiation therapy when they cover other forms is plain wrong. People are dying while companies – not medical doctors – are choosing what form of treatment they will pay for,” Thomas says.
 
Hampton University invested more than $225 million in developing the Institute with little to no financial support from the State or local community. It is the hope of advocates that Virginia will now invest in what many perceive as a life-saving modern medical treatment.
 
Says, Thomas, “I am thankful for the support of the Attorney General to hold the insurance companies accountable to the law.”
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