October 29, 2014
“Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.” — Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”
(TheAntiMedia) POMONA, CA – On September 25th, 2013, DaMonte Marquise Shipp Sr., 22, aka Ceebo Tha Rapper was pulled out of the back of a cop car in handcuffs. Two houses had been robbed nearby. Two witnesses, a mother and son, were brought on the scene and asked if Ceebo was the African American man they had seen through the window running and hopping a fence with a light skinned man 40 feet from their house. Ceebo had been detained and arrested by police miles away in an apartment complex. On the stand, both witnesses would testify that they identified Ceebo by skin tone, clothing, and even handcuffs.
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This was all witnessed in a matter of seconds through two different windows in the same house: one upstairs and one downstairs. The son testified that the African American man was wearing a white t-shirt, the mother said a white baseball jacket. However, Ceebo was wearing a black shirt on that day. One of three defendants in the case, Ceebo and his codefendant, Andrew Lopez, were identified in a popular practice known as a field ID. Unlike the line ups cop characters perform on television, field ID’s essentially constitute a police officer bringing the witness into the field where they tell the witness that they should not be biased just because they see the suspect in custody or handcuffs. Police then show their suspect to the witness. All in the good grace of faith and non bias, the witness then says yes this is the one I saw or no. A quick shortcut for cops, field identifications are a dangerous practice that that threaten to bring frequently criminalized black and brown youth that much further from justice and closer to becoming a statistic.
Neither witnesses, prints nor anything aside from the field ID placed Ceebo or Lopez in the neighborhood let alone inside either house. However, by proximity, and in Ceebo’s case, identification by shade of skin, both defendants were found guilty… and not guilty. The jury that had taken three hours to decide the next half decade to two decades or so of Ceebo and Lopez’s lives, filled out paperwork for both a guilty and not guilty verdict. No one knows for sure how that happened, but I have my own suspicions. California jurors are compensated $15 per day (while police officers are often paid time and a half to testify as “expert witnesses”). Who cares about getting it right when you want to get out of there?
In the end the jury tossed their not guilty paperwork and came back with a win i.e. financial windfall for the state, guilty on both counts of first degree residential burglary. Despite there being no violence and the only material loss being a broken sliding glass door, Ceebo Tha Rapper faces 4, 8 or 12 years minimum for each count or something like that. Since the verdict, I have not been able to reach his lawyer and even his family does not know exactly how much time Ceebo is facing. Uncertainty, lack of security, threat of violence and the absence of caring is part of America’s prison system experience. For everyone involved, including his family. Lopez faces a minimum of two and maximum of seven+ years.
Each malnourished year Ceebo serves will costs California taxpayers an average of $63,000. More expensive than Harvard but with the only promise prison holds being that of turning out hardened criminals and the nearly unemployable, prison is a profitable tradeoff compared to restorative justice like replacing broken glass. With each inmate costing $63,000 per year, one would think funds would at least be allocated to limit discrimination, save taxpayers money and secure more lineups for beyond a reasonable doubt identification practices. But nah, that simply would not be profitable for the state. Quite likely unbeknownst to the 48+ people who were paid to persecute, serve and/or give witness testimony in this case, Ceebo tha Rapper, is and is not just another young black man from South Los Angeles that the state put in prison. A father to three boys and one of twenty-one brothers and sisters, Ceebo is a dedicated family man. After the death of his cousin, Ezell Ford, Ceebo became a community organizer in Los Angeles and has been organizing rallies and marches for Tha Movement for Ford, demanding justice for Ezell Ford and all victims of police violence. A rising young leader and artist, Ceebo also released songs and music videos promoting unity amongst all people and an end to police violence. During his own trial, Ceebo’s evenings were spent in the studio working on “They Don’t Care About Us,” a single he would release only days before he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. A haunting song considering what was to come.
Admired and adored by both friends and strangers, the young black rapper was also feared by LAPD. Not for crimes but due to the power of Ceebo’s rhymes and organizing. After the release of his “Fuck Tha Police” video in response to the killing of Ezell Ford, Ceebo was publicly persecuted and criminalized by police in the mainstream media. While Ceebo’s personal journey from the streets of South LA to rapper and activist are that of the extraordinary, Ceebo’s personal struggle from the death of a cousin to his own imprisonment is too common. As a black youth, his recent conviction sadly brings Ceebo full circle through the school to prison pipeline. A course that promises a high chance of early death and/or imprisonment for those who are black and poor. Familiar tragedies that young Ceebo himself touched on in his revolutionary rhymes:
I’m tired of seeing people broke,
tired of seeing funerals
they don’t want to see us grow
I’m trying to let my people know.
However, according to the light skinned district attorney’s logic, Ceebo would only be running from police officers as an implication of guilt and nothing else. A district attorney who began the case by stacking all the odds against Ceebo.
If race dynamics in Los Angeles are anything like they are in Florida, before anyone testified on the stand, the state had an 81% chance of convicting Ceebo the minute the District Attorney eliminated all black jurors from the jury pool. Throughout the trial one of two alternate jurors, a lone black man in the corner of the jury box, constantly glanced at Ceebo. Had him or one black person had a voice in Ceebo’s case, Ceebo’s odds of conviction would have dropped to 71%. And the minute Ceebo came out of his mother’s womb, he had a 33% chance of going to jail according to the an August 2013 Sentencing Project report on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, that was submitted to the United Nations.
“One of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.” – Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System
Despite Ceebo demonstrating discipline and dedication in the wake of the police killing of his cousin while advocating the exercising of rights to fight for justice, his bail was exonerated by Judge George Genesta and Ceebo was immediately detained. Upon hearing the news, Ceebo hung his head like it was in a noose… because now it is. Courtrooms host modern day lynchings for men of color. Next Ceebo will be given his “bid” i.e. sentencing into a prison system that is almost guaranteed to fail him. All paid for by your tax dollars. Right now, the odds remain stacked against Ceebo. As a young black man, Ceebo faces a hasher sentence than white counterparts according to a comprehensive survey of 40 studies covering 30 years of sentencing outcomes at both the state and federal by Professor Cassia Spohn –
“Although it is irrefutable that the primary determinants of sentencing decisions are the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s prior criminal record, race/ethnicity and other legally irrelevant offender characteristics also play a role. Black and Hispanic offenders—and particularly those who are young, male, or unemployed—are more likely than their white counterparts to be sentenced to prison; they also may receive longer sentences than similarly situated white offenders. Other categories of racial minorities— those convicted of drug offenses, those who victimize whites, those who accumulate more serious prior criminal records, or those who refuse to plead guilty or are unable to secure pretrial release—also may be singled out for more punitive treatment.”
One of the last things Ceebo spoke about on his last day as a free man was the importance of people who care serving on juries. Part of the reason the prison industrial system thrives is because the public is not present and participating. We need to change that. We need to serve on juries and pack the courthouses to support people facing time, if we are afforded the privilege to do so. It helps hold the system, courts and juries accountable for their practices and conduct. Not to mention that it shows those facing time that their lives matter. The decision to strip them of their and their children’s futures matter. Children matter. Your time matters. #BlackLivesMatter
The odds stacked against Ceebo may be alleviated with your support. To help #freeCeebo aka DaMonte Marquise Shipp Sr., please send letters pleading for leniency for from “Judge George Genesta” for “DaMonte Marquise Shipp Sr.” to freeCeebo@gmail.com. Ceebo’s sentencing is November 20th @ 8:30am at Pomona Courthouse. Please join Ceebo’s loved ones, fans and supporters on 11/20/14 and Let’s Pack the Court! Court Support for @CeeboThaRapper. To donate to Ceebo’s criminal defense fund, click the donate button below.
The thing is with people nowadays, they don’t feel the pain of others until that pain is brought to them. Well, we’re here because that pain has been brought to us. We feel that pain every day …and I’m here to let you all know what that pain is like before it is brought to you directly. – Ceebo Tha Rapper