By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
The parents of seven-year-old Jazmine Barnes gunned down in a case of mistaken identity celebrated her young life during a funeral January 8. Her family and Houston community is still trying to come to grips with the shock and pain of such a violent act that claimed the life of such a young, innocent victim.
They expressed gratitude for the enormous outpouring of love they have received. Hundreds of mourners filled the Community of Faith Church sanctuary to LaPorsha Washington’s surprise, so much so that she wept while reading expressions penned by Jazmine’s aunt. James Eric Barnes, Jazmine’s stepfather, spoke briefly about the “little princess” whose family said just loved life.
Mr. Barnes called her a gift that is still with him, before becoming overwhelmed. “I cried for days. I stayed away for days. … Just praise the Lord,” he said.
Christopher Cevilla, Jaszmine’s biological father, said God saw fit to take his angel back to Him, but her job on Earth was done perfectly. “She brought so much peace and unity around the world to many, many families, healed and bonded so many broken relationships around the world, not just in Houston,” he stated.
“She wasn’t only my daughter and my baby and my angel. She’s all of our daughter, everybody … ,” Mr. Cevilla stated.
On December 30 a gunman opened fire on Ms. Washington’s vehicle carrying Jazmine and her three sisters at approximately 6:50 a.m. near a Walmart in Houston. Jazmine was shot in the head, her mother in an arm, and her six-year-old sister was hit by broken glass.
Eyewitnesses alleged the shooter was a thin, White man, in his 30’s-40’s, driving a red pickup truck. On January 3, Harris County Sheriff’s Office Homicide investigators released a sketch police said was created based on a description provided by members of Jazmine’s family.
At a live press briefing on January 6, Sheriff Edward Gonzalez said the focus changed from a White male, because police know the truck which came to a stop at a traffic signal near Ms. Washington’s vehicle. The signal changed, and the truck drove off. Sheriff Gonzalez said police believe that truck probably entered the freeway and continued on in another direction.
“We believe now that that red truck and the driver is most likely just a witness either by sight or sound to what actually transpired,” said Sheriff Gonzalez, who called on the driver to come forward to shed light on the incident.
“This is so heartbreaking, and this is a situation where you wish with all your heart and soul you could do something to rewind the clock and undo this,” said Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
The attorney, a popular radio show host and author, said the devastation that Jazmine’s death has left in its wake speaks to the futility of Blacks continuing to try to make a place for themselves in the United States of America.
“This is a country that is violent. It was violent in its birth, the way it came into being. It has sustained itself through violence, and it continues to indulge in violence,” Dr. Ava Muhammad stated.
Violence is actually honored and given a high place in American society, as exampled by the games and recreation her citizens engage in, she noted.
“People who are desirous of a peaceful, righteous existence are going to have no choice but to go form their own safe haven,” Dr. Ava Muhammad said.
Based off a tip, Harris County Sheriffs arrested the alleged driver of the vehicle, 20-year-old Eric Black, Jr. on January 5. Authorities state he admitted to his role in the killing. That same day, police arrested 24-year-old Larry Woodruffe, the alleged shooter, who was initially booked into county jail on a felony drug possession charge, police say.
Both men have been charged with capital murder and could receive a life sentence or the death penalty if tried and convicted. Media reports indicate Mr. Woodruffe has denied any involvement, according to lawyer Lisa Andrews. She told reporters following a January 10 hearing, “My experience is that people have a big motive to get themselves out of hot water. It is also my experience, after 20 years of doing criminal law on both sides, that shooters don’t give up their gun. And that gun he led the cops to was at his house, not my client’s.”
Sheriff Gonzalez stated police received a tip from journalist Shaun King. Mr. King and civil rights Attorney Lee Merritt raised and offered a $100,000 reward to help find the killer.
The arrests came on the same day that local activist Deric Muhammad and Pastor E.A. Deckard spearheaded a rally to organize the community to find the killer.
“The momentum to find Jazmine’s killer was created by the people,” said Deric Muhammad.
Police alleged that according to Mr. Black, the shooting was in retaliation for an altercation the pair had with some men at a nightclub, but it was a case of mistaken identity.
“The way that the case of Jazmine Barnes’ murder unraveled should not impact us at all if we’re truly interested in the pursuit of justice,” the Muslim activist stated. “We made a judgement call that this was possibly a race-related murder based upon the information given to us by the family, eyewitnesses, and this was also information vetted by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department,” said Deric Muhammad.
“Without truth, we cannot arrive at justice, so I don’t think this should damage at all our movement to get justice for our people. If anything, we should be grateful that if, and I use the term if, if these are the young men that are responsible for taking Jazmine’s life, we should be encouraged that they have been brought to justice,” he stated.
As for the controversy surrounding the twist in suspects, Deric Muhammad stated, “I think Black America should be proud of its response to the death of Jazmine Barnes and I don’t think we should be discouraged by the fact that the shooter turned out to be Black and not White. In cases like this we have to remember that justice has to be blind. It’s got to be! It’s got to be.”
The tragedy speaks to the need for the Black community to step up and make where they live safe for not only children, but also adults, said Attorney Nana Gyamfi, founder of Justice Warriors for Black Lives. It is a collaborative network of attorneys, legal workers, non-legal workers working with the community to provide workshops, training, policy development, and legal services in support of current Black liberation movements.
“I’m hoping that as we are talking more about the ways that we can protect our communities, and in particular Black girls, that we do more than talk and that we begin to engage in action,” she stated.
As for some peoples expressed skepticism of an arrest of two Black men in the aftermath of a description of a White suspect, Atty. Gyamfi said people should be skeptical. “I’m not one to trust the police, as a defense attorney that has represented plenty of people who the police said were responsible for crimes or for harm who it turned out that they clearly were not responsible for harm,” she stated.
“It’s unfortunate that our system that exists is so flawed that these people could be convicted, and I’d still not be convinced that they are the guilty party, because they have been consistent,” said Atty. Gyamfi. “Another part to this tragedy is because of the anti-Blackness of this system, because of the systemic injustice that is endemic in this system, we never get justice as Black people. We never know whether justice actually was achieved in terms of the system.”
Dr. Ava Muhammad concurred. “You never get complete information when it comes to criminal investigations, and I think people have a right to be skeptical,” she said.
“What else could we be when this much time has lapsed and there’s a complete reversal and dramatic change in the information? And we’ve seen this happen over and over again, and that’s why my position just has to be the tragedy itself, however it happened, it says to me that America is not a safe place to live,” said Dr. Ava Muhammad.
“It is not safe for children. Children should not be allowed in America … because now you’ve been presented with potential suspects who are on opposite ends of the issue of race, but as of late, we’ve seen children–Black and White–gunned down. Babies, just gunned down. What kind of place is this?”
Dr. Ava Muhammad pointed out, that whoever did it, they did it in America. They grew up in a sociopathic society that has no soul, she argued. “How do you pull a gun out of a window and just fire randomly into an automobile? And over what? Whether it was race that motivated it, whether it was retribution for some street conflict, neither of those justify the act.”