Jeremy Marks, an 18-year-old African American high school student, was arrested in May 2010 and charged with felony “attempted lynching” by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. What did Marks really do?
Marks witnessed and recorded video of an incident on May 5 involving a Los Angeles Unified School District Police officer and a 15-year-old African American student near Verdugo Hills High School. The police officer, Erin Robles, beat the student, pepper sprayed him and brutally smashed his head through a bus window because he had allegedly been smoking a cigarette. Many other students witnessed the incident.
Marks quietly recorded video of the incident. The L.A. District Attorney’s office claims he yelled, “Kick her a--,” and that amounted to trying to “incite a riot during an attempt to free a suspect from police custody.” The charge is baseless. Bystander videos of the incident show he said nothing.
Marks' mother, Rochelle Pittman, explained to Liberation why she is fighting so hard to win justice for her son: “If any of you have seen the video you, see that Jeremy didn’t do anything wrong. I couldn’t stop there because they’re trying to set my son up for something that he didn’t do.”
For recording video of the officer beating a student, Marks was thrown into adult jail and left there to rot for nearly nine months. Although most of the young people who witnessed the incident were arrested, only Marks was held because he was on probation at the time. Even the student who was personally involved in the incident with the officer was released immediately.
Marks' bail was set at $155,000 after the D.A. falsely claimed that he was a gang member. He was only able to get out of jail in late December after his parents and supporters fought tooth-and-nail to get the word out and won support. The outrageous nature of the case compelled a Google engineer to put over $50,000 toward his bail.
Speaking about her son’s time in jail, Rochelle Pittman told Liberation: “Every time we go to court there has been something different. First, the police officer did not write her own police report. Then, they failed to appear in court two times. Then, they continue the case for a month or two. It was a total nightmare. Jeremy was in jail. All of this was new to us. He had just turned 18 three months before this took place.”
Now, Marks is facing up to seven years in prison—all for catching the police beating a student on camera.
Guilty of nothing
It is an outrage that Marks is facing any criminal charges whatsoever. The case has delayed his education and had a tremendous impact on his family. Marks did nothing wrong. He is guilty of nothing. In fact, he was absolutely right for trying to guarantee accountability by recording the police.
Pittman told Liberation: “You don’t do that to someone when they’re trying to do something right. You don’t just take their schooling from them and throw them into an adult jail system.”
This case illustrates the deeply-rooted institutional racism of the U.S. criminal “justice” system. Black and Latino youth are faced daily with police harassment, racial profiling and criminalization.
Prosecutors and police are also trying to “make an example” of Marks so that people will stop videotaping police brutality. Video recordings of police brutality have caught dozens of incidents of police beating and, in some cases, killing people. Oscar Grant’s case became known initially because cell phone footage showed the transit cop shooting him in the back while he was lying on the ground. It is our right to hold police accountable for their actions.
Community and progressive organizations are stepping up the fight for Marks. The Party for Socialism and Liberation has been working with the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) to support the case and demand that all charges be dropped immediately. ANSWER members spoke at a press conference hosted by the Congress on Racial Equality on Dec. 23—the day Marks was released from jail. This followed the dedication of part of a 50-mile march against the criminalization of youth to Marks by the Youth Justice Coalition. ANSWER is also circulating a petition to demand all charges be dropped. And more protests and press conferences are being organized.
Pittman’s tenacious spirit continues to shine through: “They’re afraid, and they need to be because we're not giving up and we're coming straight at them and we're going to fight this.”