Does the North Coast Have Its Own Trayvon Martin?
With the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the deaths of young black men are on the minds of pundits and public alike. The story resonates because there is a truth that we recognize, young men of color are perceived, no matter what the actual reality, as dangerous. Here, on the North Coast, one of our own young black men died. His name was Jamal Andrews. he was a well known local musician and by all accounts a gentle father and easygoing guy. And his death is just as senseless and surprising as Trayvon’s.
On January 24th around 9:45 P.M., he and his long time partner, Miranda Mills, and their infant son, Kaiden were in their own home in Redwood Valley near Ukiah. According to Penelope Andrews, Jamal’s cousin, they heard the sound of an ATV which was unusual as they lived up a country road. Jamal went outside. Miranda heard him speaking to someone else alleged to be Billy Norbury, a 33 year old neighbor and the troubled son of a well liked local family. There were gunshots. According to Penelope, when Mills ran outside, Jamal had been shot in both the shoulder and the head. He died in her arms. A bullet was later discovered in the wall outside the room where Kaiden slept.
“My cousin was biracial and he was with Miranda who was Caucasian,” says Penelope Andrews who lives in Southern Humboldt though she came from Britain. She alleges that Norbury had been spurting “racial stuff” at a bar earlier that evening. Norbury, she says, had twice before ridden up on his ATV late in the evening to confront Jamal. Both times she says, Jamal, whom she calls a diplomat who rarely got angry, found a way to smooth things over. Miranda Mills, speaking with the Press Democrat, said that two men had shaken hands the last time they met and she had thought the situation resolved. However, this time the alleged encounter between the two men ended with the unarmed Andrews gunned down.
Norbury was arrested and charged with murder. The Mendocino District Attorney, David Eyster declined to charge him with any racial motivations.
Penelope Andrews says, “Some of the family do want [Jamal’s death] charged as a hate crime…If there was a racial element, it has to come out. We still want it investigated.” Andrews says the area has “quite a sad history.” She pointed out the Southern Law Policy Center map with “a branch of the KKK training out in Redwood Valley.”
When the Southern Law Policy Center was reached for comment, Angela Freeman of the Center replied by email, “In responding to your inquiry about the KKK. There was an active chapter of the Church of the United Realms of America Knights of the Ku Klux Klan but the website is now inactive. The group may have restarted again, but I have not located any activity that shows they are active.” At this time, the Center has removed the Mendocino group from their site.
Many in the community are still convinced the crime was racially motivated. The first court dates in the trial of Billy Norbury saw family and friends of Jamal Andrews carrying signs and protesting that Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster had not charged Norbury with a hate crime. The Ukiah Daily Journal reported that Eyster believed that “the evidence doesn’t indicate Norbury allegedly shot Andrews solely because of his race.” Eyster when reached by me declined to comment on the specifics. He also wouldn’t comment on the broader issue of Laura’s Law. until the Aaron Bassler case was completely resolved. Some members of the community believe that Norbury has mental health issues. His ex-wife filed court documents last May alleging he was “mentally ill and extremely unstable.”
A group focusing on diversity and inclusion, Ukiah Aware, has a rally planned for today at noon on the Alex Thomas Plaza in Ukiah. The group wanted to raise awareness of both the Trayvon Martin case and Jamal Andrews’ case. They hope to offer the community a place to gather and mourn as well as “affirm our humanity and declare our right to live safely in a diverse community–Youth, Latino, Religious, Indigenous, LGBTIQ, Elders, Asian, African American, Disabled, Impoverished, etc. We all belong to the Human Race.”
The individual motives and details of both Trayvon and Jamal’s death seem to have been at least nudged along by racist ideas whatever the actual particulars of each case. Each shooter, Zimmerman and Norbury deserve fair trials, not a rush to convict.
However, Penelope Andrews says that the death of her cousin is a wake up call for everyone to work individually to stop racism. “I’m a white, English girl,” she explains in her British accent, “who grew up with an African American family….I hear a lot of people who make little racist remarks and they don’t get called out about it.” She and Ukiah Aware are determined to change the world one person at a time. “I’m not going to let anybody be racist,” she says. ” I’m not going to allow it. I’m going to start calling it out…” Then she issues a challenge, “If you hear people make racist slurs or slurs against gay people. Call them out. You shouldn’t be afraid.”
Maybe if we do, Kaiden, seen below with Jamal, will grow up in a safer world.
Upper photo: Hollie Nass out of Willits
Lower: Penelope Andrews/www.earthfilms.org