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NAJEE’S NOTES: Activist Denise Harlins has died

Denise Harlins, the aunt of Latasha Harlins, died Christmas morning of congestive heart failure.

I was in Las Vegas when I received a phone call from a fellow activist relaying the tragic news to me. Harlins’ death hit me hard because I didn’t see it coming. She wasn’t just a fellow activist. She was a dear friend of 25-plus years.

Harlins became a nationally known activist and advocate against gun violence and violence against children after the murder of her 15-year-old niece Latasha Harlins on March 16, 1991 by Soon Ja Du, a Korean store owner in South  Los Angeles.

Many historians believe that the murder Harlins triggered one of the deadliest and costly racial riots in U.S. history on April 29, 1992.

Denise Harlins became a staunch activist who led protests demanding justice for her murdered niece and continued to speak out against gun violence, violence against children and calling for racial unity. She also became a symbol of resistance, never giving up the fight for social justice. I remember we would talk often about her dreams of starting a foundation in Latasha’s memory to help all children.

Sadly, she didn’t live long enough to complete her goal. But her legacy of advocacy will never be forgotten. I will miss my dear friend and my sincerest condolences go out to the entire Harlins family.

The memorial service for Harlins will be held at Jan. 4 at 1:30 p.m. at First AME Church, 2270 S. Harvard Blvd. Los Angeles. All are welcome.

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A coalition of L.A. civil rights leaders are starting the new year off the same way they ended 2018 and that’s in the trenches fighting for social justice with a Jan. 4 press conference at 8 a.m. outside of the Los Angeles Downtown Criminal Courts Building.

The coalition will rally behind teacher Marston Riley, the Los Angeles high school music teacher whose fight with a teenage student on Nov. 2 went viral.  Riley has been charged by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jacky Lacey’s office with one misdemeanor count of corporal injury,

As a civil rights leader, I will never condone physical violence between teachers and students. But we also will never condone teachers being threatened, bullied, disrespected and taunted with racial slurs by students.

We stand in full support of Marston Riley. In the cellphone video, captured by another student and shared by local news outlets, Riley and the boy can be seen standing at the front of a classroom where they had a heated dispute.

Students told members of the media that Riley allegedly asked the boy to leave the classroom because he was not wearing a proper uniform. In the footage, the student can be heard responding by calling Riley the N-word several times and continuing with racial slurs. Riley, who is black just stood there. The brawl escalated further after the student allegedly threw a basketball at Riley.

Our coalition of civil rights organizations are calling for District Attorney Jackie Lacey to drop these criminal charges against Riley and we hope that he can return to his classroom to continue educating the students who have supported him and want him back in the classroom. This joint statement made on behalf of the coalition also sends a message that these civil rights groups are working in unity on behalf of our community.

This writer is proud to a part of the coalition and will be a speaker at the press conference, which is co-sponsored by Project Islamic Hope, the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, the NAACP, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

It’s great to see our civil rights leaders starting this year off like they ended it, in the vanguard of the movement fighting on behalf of the community instead of each other.

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