LIMA, Ohio - The Rev. Jesse Jackson weighed in yesterday on the Monday "not guilty" verdict for the Lima Police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Lima mother during a Jan. 4 drug raid in her home while she held her infant son in her arms.
Tarika Wilson, 26, was killed that night by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, and her 13-month-old baby, Sincere Wilson, who was shot in the shoulder and hand, with an injured finger amputated afterward.
Sergeant Chavalia, who has remained on paid administrative leave for the last six months, was acquitted Monday of misdemeanor negligent homicide and negligent assault. The sergeant is white; Wilson was black.
"It's so fundamentally unfair for any civilian for that to happen," Mr. Jackson said during an exclusive Blade interview. "It seems to diminish the value of life when the police can engage and act this violent and then get away with it. The law should serve as a deterrent to tyranny, and in this case, the law excuses an act of terror."
Calling the all-white jury's verdict "an injustice," Mr. Jackson said the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, an activist group he founded, plans to take action in the situation, but only under the leadership of Lima's Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of the city's black religious community.
The Rev. H. Frank Taylor, pastor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Lima, who is also President of the ministers' alliance, said the group will take action as a result of the acquittal.
The ministers called an emergency meeting Tuesday after the verdict was announced the day before.
They will meet Monday at Shiloh Missionary Church to determine a course of action, Mr. Taylor said.
After the shooting in January, the ministers met with Mr. Jackson and contacted the Rev. Al Sharpton and media personality Tavis Smiley, along with communicating with media outlets and outraged groups across the country.
Mr. Jackson visited Lima in February to address the controversy.
Mr. Taylor said Lima's ministers had to quell Mr. Sharpton's plans for a 50,000-person rally in Lima to mark the April 4 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
Lima Mayor David Berger and other city officials feared that kind of demonstration would exacerbate a potentially explosive and violent situation in the city.
When then-State Attorney General Marc Dann visited Lima Jan. 16 and promised justice would be served in the Tarika Wilson case, Mr. Taylor said the ministers decided to let the legal system take its course.
"We were hoping at the time that we would get a favorable verdict through the system," he said. "We were assured by the Attorney General that not only would their be an indictment, but a conviction as a result of that But obviously justice was not served in this case."
Mr. Taylor said although the alliance hasn't determined a course of action, it now seeks the national attention it previously turned away.
"We will see what we need to do to show our displeasure," he said. "Whether that will result in a march or some other action will be determined after our meeting Monday. We want to bring the attention of people across the nation to the injustice that was done here."
Lima City Council President John Nixon yesterday reiterated his previous concerns that a large demonstration in Lima with national media and civil-rights activists would be counterproductive to the "problem" in the city.
"If their intent is simply to stir things up and leave, I think that is much different than if they plan to come to Lima for the long term, stay here, and help identify the cause of problems, and work through coming up with solutions that bring tangible, positive results, and positive outcomes," he said.
Mr. Jackson said the PUSH Coalition will stand behind the Lima ministers' decision, whatever it may be.
"People cannot take this kind of violence and not express conscientious outrage," he said. "I've been with the ministers and whatever appropriate role they want our organization to play. We intend to support the ministers in their quest for justice."
An 11-man Lima SWAT team raided Tarika Wilson's house in search of her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, who was wanted on drug charges.
Lima Police Chief J. Gregory Garlock said his officers were told during briefing that Terry previously was arrested for trying to shoot a police officer.
Terry was hiding downstairs during the raid and unleashed two pit bulls on some of the officers, who shot and killed the two attacking dogs.
Sgt. Chavalia was one of two officers searching the upstairs bedrooms of Wilson's home.
He testified in court during his 3 1/2-day trial last week that he saw a shadowy figure, which turned out to be Wilson and her child, ducking in and out of a bedroom doorway down the hall.
Sgt. Chavalia ordered her to "get down," but when the dogs were shot downstairs, he thought the shots were coming from Wilson, so he fired his rifle, striking her twice in the neck and upper chest.
Wilson's mother, Darla Jennings, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the sergeant and the city of Lima, and the U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was investigating whether he violated Wilson's civil rights.
A Lima Police internal affairs investigation to be conducted by the Montgomery County Sheriff's office is soon to begin as well.
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