“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Chicago Police Officer Found Guilty for Killing Laquan McDonald
Jason Van Dyke shot the black youth 16 times in 2014
A jury has convicted Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
The Chicago police officer originally faced two counts of first-degree murder and was acquitted of one count of official misconduct. Second-degree murder carries a more lenient sentence than first-degree, and Van Dyke could face as long as 20 years in prison or as little as probation. Each aggravated battery conviction carries prison time from six to 30 years.
With jury deliberations starting Thursday afternoon, the verdict was reached midday Friday after approximately 7½ hours. In closing arguments, jury members heard a prosecutor claim that Van Dyke had no regard for the black teenager's life, while the defense framed the situation as tragic, but not a murder.
Assistant special prosecutor Jody Gleason told the jury that according to testimony by his partner, Van Dyke was already considering shooting the youth on the drive to the scene.
"Laquan McDonald was never going to walk home that night," Gleason said. "You heard what it was that he said, 'I guess we'll have to shoot him.'"
Tiffany Van Dyke, the wife of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, listens during the trial.
Van Dyke is the first Chicago officer to be charged with first-degree murder since 1980. While police reports originally did not find the shooting an incriminating offense, dash-cam videos released by the city in 2015 sparked protests, and the courts ordered Van Dyke be held without bond on murder charges.
The video was approximately six minutes long and appeared to show the 17-year-old McDonald running down the middle of the road while Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opens fire, striking the teen sixteen times and killing him.
Chicago officials had been preparing for potential demonstrations following the release of the verdict Friday afternoon. Police said they had plans in place to "ensure public safety" while at the same time "protecting the rights of peaceful demonstrations."
Family members of McDonald in the courtroom included Rev. Martin Hunter, the victim's great uncle who acts as a family spokesperson, among others. Tina Hunter, McDonald's mother, was not in court for the verdict.
Demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse erupted into cheers after the reading of the verdict. "Thank you, Jesus!" one woman shouted. Others chanted, "Justice! Justice! Justice!"
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