Thursday, August 04, 2016

Don't Let Media Nor Police Define Korryn Gaines. The Truth is She's A Warrior!

“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” 
Malcolm X

Who was Korryn Gaines, the 23-year old woman who was shot and killed by Baltimore County Police on Monday, after a six-hour standoff? An incident that also resulted in her 5-year old son also being shot, though he’s reportedly in fair condition.

I know the media is portraying her as some mentally deranged woman with brain damage due to lead poisoning who both hated and wanted to kill police, but who also had a death wish.


In a story posted by the Baltimore Sun, the reporter wrote about a 2012 lawsuit which Gaines had brought against two landlords because of her being exposed to lead paint. According the Sun, the suit – which is still pending – claimed the exposure lowered Gaines’ IQ and went on to say that because of the paint Gaines had issues with “anger and impulsive behavior.”

Tuesday night, Fox News host Megyn Kelley of the Kelley Files said on her show: “There is a question about her mental state . . . Police would not confirm whether she had a history of mental issues.”

Rapper David Banner
It seems the only reason it was
mentioned that Gaines follows the rapper
 on Instagram was because his new videos
"Black Fist," shows a police officer being
tortured. Banner is also followed by more
 450,000 people besides Gaines.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post – without giving any context – said Gaines “followed the rapper David Banner, who released a video called ‘Black Fist’ in which a police officer is tied up, beaten bloody and stabbed.”

Of course all the media also detailed the facts in the case; most of which was given to them by police authorities.  

ACCORDING TO POLICE at about 9:10 Monday morning, two police officers knocked on Gaines’ apartment door to serve arrest warrants on her and her 39-year old boyfriend, Kareem Courtney. No one answered but police could hear movement and voices, so they obtained a key from the apartment management office. After they unlocked the door they could still not gain entry because of an interior chain . . . but through the space they saw Gaines holding a gun which she then pointed at them. It was at that point they retreated further into the hallway and called in for backup.

ACCORDING TO POLICE Courtney left the apartment with a one-year old girl, and was arrested. 

ACCORDING TO GAINES’ MOTHER she arrived on the scene and asked police to be allowed to speak to her daughter. She was turned down.

ACCORDING TO POLICE they contacted Facebook, and asked them to suspend Gaines’ Facebook and Instagram accounts as she was trying to livestream the events as they unfolded, and some of her followers were egging her on.

ACCORDING TO POLICE, around 3:05 p.m., Gaines took aim at an officer and says, “I’m going to kill you.”

ACCORDING TO POLICE at that point an officer (it’s not clear if it’s the one she whom allegedly threatened or not) fired one round at Gaines.  Gaines fired two shots back at the police, who then fire three shots in her direction – one of which kills her.

ACCORDING TO POLICE when the officers then enter the apartment, they find that Gaines’ 5-year old son has also been shot. He was rushed to the hospital. Police say they don’t know if he was shot by Gaines or them.

How does a lawsuit, lead paint, mental illness, or the name of a rapper whom Gaines followed on
Instagram, fit into the story? What does the videotape she posted of her traffic stop in March have to do with her death on Monday? She didn’t point a gun at the police then.

Well, some might say the media added those details to give background or color, or suggest possible motives for the entire incident. The reality is it’s conjecture, supposition, and hyperbole.

If there’s something in the story that does not DIRECTLY relate the incident in question, you should pretty much ignore it while reading the article. Once you’ve finished reading, then go back and read it again – with the additional color and details the media adds. YOU decide how much weight those media additions should be given.

Right now what the media has done is strongly imply that Korryn Gaines was an insane woman with a hatred of police, who perhaps wanted to commit suicide by cop.

And a lot of people are buying it.

Still from video Korryn
Gaines posted. The Free
Thought Project says they
believe this Swat officer
might have a camera in
his helmet
Also, keep in mind, there’s really no videotape of the incident – the Baltimore County police force were given body cameras last month, but they claim they’re not sure if the officers involved were Gaines death were wearing one.

Which likely means they’re going to say they’re not, but they’re trying to wait to see if anyone can refute that by supplying cell phone footage showing they were.

Which also means almost all of the facts given to the media came from the police – who have a vested interest in making themselves look good.

Did Gaines really tell a police officer, “I’m going to kill you,” causing him to fire? If we’ve learned nothing over the past few years, we have learned that police lie when it comes to their actions.

Oh, and by the way . . . it was found out Wednesday night that police didn’t just unlock the door. They lied. Court documents indicated that after they used a key to unlock the door they were confronted with the chain lock. Seeing Gaines, they told her to come forward and unlatch it. When she refused they kicked the door in.  It was only at that point that Gaines aimed her gun at them in the first place.

As she posted to her Facebook page before her account was suspended . . . 
I'm home. Tell those gang members outside door to go away from my home and family.”

So we’ve seen how the media wants us to think of Korryn Gaines, let me tell you what I think of her.

I think of her as a young African-American woman who had a son, and who was tired of all the rhetoric, the marching, and the rallying – which had up no point made her son’s survival in this
society a sure thing.  A woman who, rightfully, had issues with the way police interacted with young African-Americans and Latinos. A woman who decided it was time for her to defend her home, her family and herself with more than just words.

SHE DID NOTHING WRONG. SHE DID NOTHING ILLEGAL. You are not obligated to let the police or anyone into your home unless they have a search warrant. Not an arrest warrant.

The gun she possessed was legally obtained, and she had a license to have it in her home.

And as far as pointing a gun at the police? In the climate in which we live, if police officers kicked my door in, I would point a gun at them too – because I would be fear for my life and the lives of my family.

This is the thing you need to spread the word about among our people wherever you go. Never let them be brainwashed into thinking that whenever they take steps to see that they're in a position to defend themselves that they’re being unlawful. The only time you're being unlawful is when you break the law. It's LAWFUL to have something to DEFEND yourself.
Malcolm X

Don’t let the media or the police or anyone make her out to be a crazy fanatic or a villain.

Man, I’m calling her a proud warrior. A soldier for the cause of justice. A martyr for African-American and Latino motherhood.

And shame on you if you allow the media, the police, or anyone else, to make you see it any other way. 

(a shortened version of this blogpost will appear in The Sunday Philadelphia Tribune on 8/7/2016)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Freddie Gray Case: The Proof is in the Pudding

Vote, they told us. We did that.

Stop rioting, they told us. We did that, too.

Let the justice system do their job, they told us. We even did that.

Be patient, they told us. Well, we've been doing that for more than a century.

And still . . .

And still . . .

I don't know that I've ever cried while writing a blog post before, but I'm crying now. Tears of sadness and tears of frustration -- mixed in with a liberal amount of tears of anger.

Freddie Gray
As of four hours ago, all of the charges have been dropped against the officers involved in the Freddie Gray case. The officers involved in the murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

It was April 12, 2015 around 9:15 in the morning when it happened. Freddie Gray was minding his business, walking in his Baltimore neighborhood. Police Lt. Brian Rice and police officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero were on bike patrol. Gray caught Rice's eye, and according to the police lieutenant, took off running.
The police gave chase, and tackled Gray to the ground. They found a knife, blade folded into the handle, clipped to the inside of Gray's front pocket and arrested him. Gray, who suffered from asthma, asked for an inhaler, but was ignored. Bystanders videotaped the arrest on cellphones -- the young man did not appear to be hurt when the officers placed him, handcuffed into the police van -- which had two benches, each with five sets of seat belts.
Typical Baltimore Police Van
A short while later, the driver --  Caesar Goodson --  stops the van, and Rice, Miller, and Nero get out and pull Gray from the van to place flex cuffs on his wrists and leg shackles on his ankles. Then they place him -- headfirst and on his stomach -- back into the van.
Ever heard of a Rough Ride? Or a Nickle Ride?
They are terms for a form of police brutality that officers can inflict without ever laying a hand on a person.
They simply handcuff/shackle a suspect and place him/her in the back of a police van. Then the driver of the van then starts speeding on bumpy roads, making series of sharp turns, coming to sudden stops -- all designed to throw the bound and helpless suspect around in the unpadded metal van.
There've been numerous cases where a nickle ride has resulted in serious injury to a suspect, including landing them in wheelchairs and led to multi-million dollar settlements around the country.
Records would show that the officers driving the police van made three stops before taking Freddy Gray to the police station; once to place shackles on Gray, the other to place another person in the back of the van with him.
When the van finally arrived at the police station Gray was found barely conscious. He was taken to the hospital (saying "rushed to the hospital" seems inappropriate here) and died a week later. His neck was broken. His vocal box was crushed. His spinal cord severed.
Despite extensive surgery, Gray died in the hospital on April 19th.
The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, adding it is "believed to be the result of a fatal injury that occurred when Mr. Gray was unrestrained by a seat belt while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department wagon."
There were Baltimore citizens who held protests about Freddie Gray's death, but that didn't really get any media coverage or attention.
Then there was rioting.
That caught a lot of attention. National media attention. All of a sudden everyone was paying attention to a death of the young guy in Baltimore. Time Magazine even had a cover devoted to it.
And Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, held a press conference after the rioting and called the participants thugs.
They got things rolling, whatever she or anyone else might want to call them.
But after the Trayvon Martin case, the Michael Brown case, the Eric Garner case, and so many over the past five years, the community didn't really think there would be any justice for Freddie Gray's family.
But then on May, 1st, Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City's State Attorney, held a dynamic press conference in which she announced charges against six police officers in connection with Gray's death -- the most serious charges being depraved-heart manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and manslaughter by vehicle.
People began to hope, really hope . . .
Someone. Was. Finally. Going. To. Be. Held Accountable. For. Murdering. Our. Young. Black. Men. And. Women.
But then one officer's trial ended in a mistrial. Two other officers were tried and acquitted. The charges were dropped against all the officers earlier today -- July 27, 2016.
To say the community is stunned, hurt, and confused would be an understatement. Freddie Gray did not break his own neck, crush his own vocal box, and sever his own spine.
The officers admit that they did not seat-belt Freddie Gray although Baltimore Police policy dictated they should have.
They admittedly ignored Freddie Gray's repeated requests for medical assistance.
But no one was responsible for his death?
Not even a teeny-weeny bit responsible?
Give me a damn break!

And even Marilyn Mosby, in the press conference this morning announcing the dropping of the charges, was furious. She said there were police officers who were witnesses to the case, but still were appointed to the investigative team. Lead detectives, she said, were not only uncooperative, but actually started a counter-investigation to disprove the state's case.
"We can try this case this case 100 times, and cases just like it, and we would still end up with the same result," she said in a fiery tone.
Mosby went on to say that while justice may not have been done in this case, that at least the spotlight turned on it will prevent what happened to Freddie Gray from happening to others.
I mean . . . What?
And now we're supposed to hang our hopes on that?
I'm sorry. I'm 58-years-old, and I've been fighting social injustice all my life. I've been to protests, I've witnessed riots. I've sat in on trials. I've written newspaper stories and editorials. All trying to get justice for the social injustices I see around me. What is it that you want me to now?
The people of Baltimore . . . they did everything they were supposed to do. Everything they could think of and everything society told them to do.
They used their voting power. At the time of Freddie Gray's death the mayor was Black, the police chief was Black, the city council was Black, the city's state attorney was Black, the U. S. congressman representing the district was Black . . . and you know the ethnicity of the U. S. president for whom Baltimore  overwhelmingly voted.
They held peaceful protests after Freddie Gray's death. Peaceful protests!
It was only when that failed to get attention that the rioting started. And then, when political and social leaders asked the city to stand down and wait to hear if charges would be brought, they did.
And when Marilyn Mosby said charges were being brought, and the young black men and women's voices were being heard, they believed her. They cheered her. And they waited for her to bring damn thing home.
But she didn't.
Because she couldn't.
Not only because the prosecution was rigged against us . . . that's seems obvious just listening to Mosby's own words . . . but more importantly, the whole damn system is rigged against us.
So, wait . . . what is it you would have us do now?
Never mind. I think it's time we decide for ourselves.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bumpy And Me

Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and Flash Walker, the man who
later turned on Johnson and framed in a drug conspiracy

Perhaps it's because it was recently announced that Janet Jackson is producing a film on Madame Stephanie St Clair, but lately I've once been getting quite a few questions about Bumpy Johnson, and how I wound up writing the only definitive biography on this legendary Harlem gangster.

 I can remember when the name Bumpy Johnson first meant anything to me. I was ten years old, and still upset that my family moved from Harlem to the Bronx the year before. I found it hard to make friends and would often convince my mother to let me to take the number 2 train to Harlem to visit my pals from the old neighborhood.
On this particular bright sunny day in July 1968,  I happily trotted up the subway stairs, grasping the two shiny quarters – my weekly allowance which I planned on using to buy a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake at the Rexall Drugstore on the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.

As soon as I walked up the steps from the station I could see something was going on. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, the shoe repair store, which doubled as the neighborhood gambling spot, was closed. There were no shiny –faced Nation of Islam brothers hawking copies of Muhammad Speaks on the corner. Missing too were the winos who were usually sprawled on the steps of brownstones, drinking brown-bag wrapped pints of Wild Irish Rose and Swiss Up. Something was up, and it had to be something big.
A large group of people was milling through the streets – not a crowd or a mob, like I had seen during the Harlem riots just months before, but something gentler. It seemed like a stream of swaying black faces, all pointing in one direction – east toward Central Park. I pulled on the sweaty arm of one woman to ask her what was going on, but she looked down at me haughtily – readjusted her scruffy brown mink stole around her shoulders with one gloved hand, and gave me a slight push away from her with the other.
Undaunted, and still curious, I tapped on the shoulder of a tall freckled teenage boy, dressed in his dark blue suit and a darker blue tie – obviously his Sunday best. “What’s everyone standing around for?” I demanded. “What’s going on?”
 On any other occasion I’m sure the teenager would have shoved me away, too, but he was excited, and he seemed to want to share his scandalous knowledge. “Bumpy’s funeral!” he answered me in a loud whisper, as if we really were in church, and not in the middle of Lenox Avenue .
 “Bumpy who?” The name was familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it.
 The boy screwed his face up with disgust. Sadly, my question had revealed I was unworthy of his wisdom. “Bumpy Johnson, stupid. The gangster.”
 “Boy, what’s wrong with you?” A big hammy paw came down upon his head, and the woman to whom it belonged glared at the two of us. “Ain’t you got no respect?”
 A funeral? That’s why all these people were out here? Didn’t make much sense to me. I quickly decided to move on, and forgetting about hamburger and milk shake, I headed toward the sanctuary of 115th Street .
Bumpy Johnson. Yeah, now I remembered where I’d heard the name. My Uncle Nicky used to talk about him . . . called him a “Harlem bad man,” meaning he was meaning he was dangerous. The kind of man you’d better be careful around, because if you said something he didn’t like, he’d cut you or shoot you, or have you cut or shot.
My Uncle Nicky knew something about Harlem bad man, because he had a pretty good reputation himself as one of the best second-story man in Harlem. Nobody could break into a second-floor window better than my Uncle Nicky.
But I knew that Bumpy Johnson was a real bad man. The kind of man I’d never want to meet. I wondered if someone had finally shot him before he shot them.
Instead of walking away from the crowd, I was moving further into it as I tried to walk to 115th Street . It was really stacked in front of St. Martin’s Church on 122nd Street and Lenox. Many of the women were crying, and all of the men had their hats in their hands. I don’t know why I looked up, maybe I heard an airplane or the screeching of a bird, but when I did I saw that there were men on the roofs of the buildings across the street from the church. But these men didn’t have hats in their hands, they had shotguns. Uniformed police officers with rifles were watching Bumpy Johnson’s funeral.
Yeah, I decided, that Bumpy Johnson must have been really bad if the police was scared he going to jump from his coffin and start shooting or something.
I wiggled through the crowd and over to my friend’s house. Soon the tap tap of my double-dutching feet on the sidewalk jarred the thoughts of the funeral out of my head. There was no room in my 10-year-old brain for funerals for people I didn’t know, or want to know. By the time I returned home that evening, the whole incident was totally forgotten. It would be another twenty-five years before I thought about that day again.
I was a 36-year-old reporter for The Virginian Pilot, and living in Norfolk, Va., and raising my own young daughter. On this particular night I was doing my weekly ironing, and listening rather than watching, an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.” The episode was about the only successful escape from Alcatraz Penitentiary, which occurred in 1962. The piece suggested that prisoners escaped with the help of a Harlem gangster, who used his connections to have a boat sent out to meet them in the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay.
“Harlem gangster,” I said out loud to no one. They must be talking about Bumpy Johnson."
I was right. I heard the narrator launch into a mini-biography on Bumpy – how he had fought a bloody war with the crazy Jewish mob boss, Dutch Schultz, over control of the numbers racket in Harlem. I knew about the story, of course – everyone in Harlem did. Bumpy may have been unknown to the white world, but in Harlem he was a legend. And I had actually attended his funeral. Well, sort of.
As the show went on, I thought of another Mr. Johnson I had known. A man who once helped me in a way that seemed positively heroic at the time. He’d be the same age as Bumpy Johnson, but the two men couldn’t have been more different. I’d lost contact with him a child, and I suddenly regretted it. He was probably dead by now, I thought. I wish I had been able to attend his funeral. I wish I had the chance to say, thank you.
I met nice Mr. Johnson when I was eight. My mother, my twin sister and my two brothers and I lived in a three bedroom apartment at 31 West 115th Street , right around the corner from the real estate office where my mother worked as a minimum-wage bookkeeper. One of her sometimes co-workers was a woman I only knew as Madame, who was also the local number runner.
I was a third-grader at P.S. 184 on 116th Street when I stopped in my mother’s office to hand her my report card. All ‘A's as usual, but there was something different on this report card. In the comment section it said that I had been selected for the Intellectually Gifted Child program. My mother simply gushed when she saw it, and she proudly showed the report card around the office.
Madame, whom had never said more than a quick hello to me before, reacted with such delight you would have thought I were her child. She said she wanted to reward me for doing so well in school by letting me hang out with her once in while. The next morning Madame picked me up in her black Cadillac – she was the only woman I knew in Harlem who had her own Caddy – and drove me around for an hour, making stops all over the neighborhood, without ever saying a word to me until we stopped and got out at Graham Court – a huge apartment complex – at 116th and Seventh Avenue.

Oh, God, I was so impressed! Graham Court was huge, and had a gated courtyard with entrances to the four buildings which made up the complex. All of the buildings had locked lobbies with intercoms, like I had seen on television. The doorknobs and railings were shiny brass. The steps were made of veined marble. I had seen the apartment complex all my life, I once lived right around the corner, but I had only dreamed about actually going inside the gates. I was already feeling well-rewarded for my academic achievements.
 After we were buzzed into the building on the southeast corner of the courtyard, Madame leaned down, told me to mind my manners, then knocked at the door of a first-floor apartment. A giant of a man with a tiny hat perched on the side of his head, grunted us in. Madame left me sitting in an overstuffed chair in a room full of strangers – mostly men – all waiting around, some playing cards, while she went into a back room. I didn’t care; for the half-hour or so, I was busy taking in the apartment. The ceilings were so high I knew even my tall cousin Wesley wouldn’t be able to reach it even if he were standing on one of our kitchen chairs. There was a chandelier, the first one I had ever seen, with a hundreds of tiny bulbs. I wished that it was evening instead of in the middle of the afternoon so I could see chandelier shimmer, or perhaps the warm glow of light that I just knew would come from the marble surrounded fireplace.
I was so impressed with the apartment itself, I took no notice of the furniture. I just knew the person who lived in this grand residence had to be a millionaire. I wondered who it was. Certainly not one of the men who were in the room with me. They were big rough-looking men, not the kind of men who could be the master of this magnificent home. I wondered if instead it was one of the people in other room who were speaking with Madame. I couldn’t make out what was being said among the raised voices, save for Madame, attempting to “explain” something.
Fifteen minutes later, a distressed looking Madame walked back into the living room along with three men. One of them was Mr. Johnson.
He was dark-skinned, with hair so short he looked bald, and dressed in an elegant dark blue suit. When he entered the living room, everyone stood up. He paid them little attention, he looked angry, and was walking, fast, toward the front door when he noticed tiny me in the large over-stuffed chair.
“Well, hello there,” he said his face breaking out into a crinkly nosed smile.
“Ke-Ke, sweetheart, say hello to Mr. Johnson,” Madame said, suddenly all sugar. “Mr. Johnson, I’ll have you know that my little Ke-Ke is the smartest little girl in her third-grade class.”
Even as young as I was, I suddenly realized that Madame had brought me to the apartment because she knew Mr. Johnson, would be angry with her about something, and she also knew that Mr. Johnson couldn’t stay angry around children. Especially smart children who liked to read Langston Hughes.
 He actually knew Langston Hughes, he told me at that first meeting. I was impressed. The one question I had, I blurted out immediately. “Is he nice?”
 “Real nice,”Mr. Johnson answered with a laugh. “Go get this smart young lady some ice cream.”

As if by magic, there was suddenly two bowls of vanilla ice cream on the large mahogany dining room table.
“What’s wrong?” Mr. Johnson asked as I slowly picked up my spoon.
“Um, I like chocolate.”
“Don’t be rude, Ke-Ke!” Madame said sharply.
“Go out and buy Miss Ke-Ke some chocolate ice cream,” Mr. Johnson said, his smiling eyes never leaving my face. “I like young ladies who aren’t afraid to say what they want.”
Our relationship was cemented over ice cream, vanilla for him, chocolate for me.
It was the first of many visits that summer. Each visit would begin a sometimes heated discussion between Madame and Mr. Johnson, and end with Mr. Johnson and me sitting at the table eating ice cream while he told me stories about Langston Hughes, and other literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance, most of whom I didn’t know.
But his friendships weren’t just limited to writers. Mr. Johnson said that used to be good friends with the famous boxer Joe Louis, and that he had been best pals with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the man who tap danced the steps with Shirley Temple.
I was in total awe. I always hated when our visits ended, and would pout when Madame said it was time to go, but Mr. Johnson would smile and pat me on the head saying, “You know you’re going to be seeing me again, Miss Ke-Ke.”
It was towards the end of the summer when Mr. Johnson sat me down and gave me a good talking to when he found out that I had been selected to go to a white school downtown because I was an “Intellectually Gifted Child,” but didn’t want to go.
“Miss Ke-Ke,” he said puzzled over my hesitation. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
 “I don’t want to go,” I insisted as I gulped down the bowl of chocolate ice cream he always kept on hand for my visits. “I don’t want to go to school with a bunch of white kids.”
“Why not?” he insisted.
“Because what?”
 “Just because,” I said, giving him my pat 8-year-old answer to all unanswerable questions.
But Mr. Johnson had a way with children, and it didn’t take long before I was confiding in him that I thought the children at P. S.166 on 84th Street and Columbus would laugh at me because I wore hand-me-down clothes that my mother didn’t have time to mend. Even the children at P.S. 184 laughed at me, and their clothes weren’t much better.
“Miss Ke-Ke, you don’t go to school to show off clothes, you go to learn,” Mr. Johnson told me with a quiet smile. “But I know just how you feel. The kids in my school used to laugh at my clothes, too.”
 I looked at him incredulously. First of all, I never considered that Mr. Johnson could ever have been a child. I wasn’t good at guessing ages, but I figured he must have been as old my grandfather would have been if he were still alive. Secondly, I couldn’t even imagine anyone teasing Mr. Johnson about his clothes. He was always dressed so nicely, always in a suit and tie, and even at eight, I could see that his suits and ties were very, very expensive. And of course, he must have been a millionaire – after all he lived at Graham Court .
“Kids laughed at you because of your clothes?” I asked suspiciously.
“Yes, they did, Miss Ke-Ke.”
“And what did you do?”
“I beat them up.”
There were a bunch of men in the apartment – Mr. Johnson always had at least two or three really big burly men with him – and they hollered with laughter at his answer until he gave them a silencing glare.
“Now, I don’t want you go around beating people up, Miss Ke-Ke,” he said, returning his attention to me, “because you’re a smart young lady, and smart young ladies should fight with their brains. But you have to go to school to learn how to do that. And you have a chance to go to a really good school. Don’t let the thought of people laughing at your clothes keep you from learning.”
I was pretty much convinced. Clothes or no clothes, I was going to that white school and get as smart as Mr. Johnson, and maybe I would get to meet people like Langston Hughes and Bojangles, and live in a grand apartment, too. I'd just have to go that new school wearing old clothes.
Madame stopped coming around my mother’s house to pick me up, and the rumor on the street was that she had been sent to prison for something or the other, so my visits to Mr. Johnson’s house stopped. But two weeks before school started there was a knock on our apartment door. My mother answered it, and a man gave her a white envelope that was marked “From Mr. Johnson.” Inside were five twenty-dollar bills, enough in 1967, to buy really nice school clothes for me and my twin sister and two brothers.
My thoughts were jolted back to present day when my cat suddenly leaped onto the ironing board, almost knocking down the iron. I took it as omen that I needed to break from housework. I walked into the living room and plopped down on the couch in front to the television just as a black-and-white mug shot of Bumpy Johnson appeared on the screen.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was my Mr. Johnson. And I couldn’t believe my ears as the announcer called him the “most notorious gangster in Harlem.” The photograph was still on the screen, and I continued to stare. Yes, there was no doubt that it was my Mr. Johnson. I puzzled how the nice old man who had been so good to me could be the fierce criminal of Harlem lore.
I sat there in a shock for a few minutes before I picked up the telephone. My mother had passed away by this time, but I called her best friend, Abiola Sinclair, a former columnist with the Amsterdam News -- Harlem's oldest African-American newspaper.
"Abby, did you know that the Mr. Johnson who Madame used to take me to visit was actually Bumpy Johnson?" I asked, waiting for her to be as shocked as me.
"Yeah, of course," was her response. "You didn't know?"
"I do now."
So, I did know Bumpy Johnson. At least one part of him, I knew very well. Now it was the other side which intrigued me. I had to get to know him, too,
Being from Harlem it didn't take me long to make the right connections to get the right interviews. And it was Dr. John Henrick Clarke, the late noted African-American historian and pioneer of Africana studies, who got me in contact with Mayme Johnson, Bumpy's widow who was still  living in Harlem.
Madame Stephanie St. Clair
and her husband Sufi Abdul
Hamid, whom she later shot
Mayme (she INSISTED that I call her by her first name. It took a LOT of insisting!) and I hit it off immediately. She loved telling me stories about Bumpy and his friendships with people like Lena Horne, Sugar Ray Robinson and his business relationships with people like Madame Stephanie St. Claire and Henry Perkins. Over the next 10 years we would casually say that we should write a book about Bumpy, but neither of us really pursued it.

Until the movie American Gangster came out, and Mayme found out that Frank Lucas was telling people that he was once Bumpy's right-hand man.
"He wasn't nothing but a flunky," she said with fury in her quiet voice. "He must not realize for him to be telling them lies. Come on, Karen. Let's write this damn book."
Mayme Johnson was 93-years-old at the time. More than 300 people came out to the book launch party for Harlem Godfather when it was released in March 2008. She died a year later, happy that she had set the record straight.

And I am glad I was able to help. I finally got a chance to show, not just tell, nice Mr. Johnson: "Thank you."

Monday, July 04, 2016

Whose Independence Day? Mine's in December!

Today, a friend of more than 40 years texted me "Wishing you a safe and happy 4th of July! " followed by six American flag emojis and six celebratory horn-blowing emojis.
I texted back, "Same to you (although I don't know when you got so damn patriotic.)
His response? "I just learned about emojis. Yay, me!"
His answer satisfied my curiosity. He used the 4th of July like many African-Americans (and quite a few non-African-Americans)  use it  . . . as an excuse to do something else they want to do -- get off work, barbecue in the backyard, have a family reunion because it's a three-day holiday and it allows out-of-town relatives travel time, or simply to practice sending out emojis.
I do know a few African-Americans who actually celebrate Independence Day with flag waving and parade watching, but very few. When asked (because, you know, I have to ask) why they're celebrating they usually answer that America's a great country, and they're proud to be an American.
I'm never quite sure how to respond without launching into a lecture that I'm quite sure they don't want to hear.
But here it is.
If you're Black, and grateful and proud to be an American that's all cool and dandy, but why are you celebrating the independence of a country that kept you enslaved while declaring their own right to be free?
I mean, let's be clear . . . if there is any date that Black folks should be celebrating as Independence Day, it should be December 18th. That's the day, in 1865, that the Thirteenth Amendment was issued, outlawing slavery.
Oh . . . you thought Lincoln freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation . .!
No. He only freed the slaves in the rebelling Southern states, just to further piss them off.
It was simply a war measure, not a measure of the Nation's compassion or conscience.
Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, parts of Virginia and even parts of Louisiana were allowed to keep right on doing what they were doing - practicing slavery.
So, yeah, while I understand some African-Americans are proud to be an American, and/or want to serve it in some manner (I fall into the latter category, having served in the U. S. Navy for five years), I just don't understand celebrating an Independence Day that not only is NOT mine, but also celebrating the document that is at the heart of the holiday -- The Declaration of Independence. A document that opens with the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

My men, my race, weren't considered equal. Our right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness wasn't recognized. The fact is there were 500,000 Blacks being held as slaves as the document was being signed

So no offense, but while I don't mind using the 4th of July as an excuse for a paid day off from work (much as many whites use the MLK holiday), I will reserve my celebration of Independence Day for another six months

And as a bonus, here's what Frederick Douglass had to say about the 4th of July . . . back in 1852.

Rochester, New York - July 5, 1862

"What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July?"

***************************************Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorry this day, "may my right hand cleave to the roof of my mouth"! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate, I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just....

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, and secretaries, having among us lawyers doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; and that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply....
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

There is not a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms- of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Racist Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer  Op-Ed section on June 13, 2016)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Movie is just another example of racist propoganda.
Yes, I'm saying it! The movie  featuring those green sewer-dwelling amphibians that everyone loves is racist. Subliminally racist. Insidiously racist.

I know . . . people are tired of folks accusing movies or television series of having racist content or undertones. Because, come on, if you look hard enough you can convince yourself that anything can be racist. Right?

But let's examine some cold hard facts here, okay?

Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo -- members of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles = The good guys.

Be-Bop, Rock-steady, and Shredder -- members of the Foot Clan = The bad guys.

Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are named after great artists of the European Renaissance era. Leonardo, then one might easily surmise, is meant to represent Leonardo da Vinci -- the great artist, inventor, mathematician and writer whose genius epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.  

They are, of course figures to be admired, even worshiped as role models for our children. Figures with whom we would all want to identify, and whose success we hope they would aspire to emulate. 

But now let's look at the bad guys, shall we?

Bebop is a form of music developed in the 1940s -- some say invented by jazz icons Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Coleman Hawkins -- but identified with all the African-American jazz musicians of that era. 

Rocksteady is a musical form that came out of the Caribbean, mainly Jamaica, in the mid 1960s. Made famous by Alton Ellis who was called the "Godfather of Rocksteady," It even spawned a dance craze that reached the United States in the 1970s with the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklins' hit Rock Steady.  Johnny Nash hit number one on the Billboard Chart here in the States with his Rocksteady song, I Can See Clearly Now.

Shred guitar or shredding is defined as a virtuoso leading guitar solo playing style for the electric guitar, based on various fast playing techniques. A friend of my father's always talked about musicians and their titles. Frank Sinatra was "The Chairman of the Board." Ray Charles was "The Genius.” And Jimi Hendrix -- who died in 1970 after only a four-year career in music --  was "The Shredder."  Search the web and you'll find numerous mentions of his magnificent shredding at the Woodstock Music Festival, and his stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner is still considered a shredding classic. Though greatly identified with heavy metal rock, Prince was also considered one of the great shredders, and he cited his shredding influences as both Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. 

Now, see, I don't think it's overly sensitive to look at a cartoon that names all the smart good guys after European culture and all the stupid bad guys after Black culture. Do you?

What bothers me the most is that it's subliminal, and therefore insidious!  

Subliminal, because most of the children watching wouldn't yet know about the European Renaissance, or yet be familiar with names of music genres like Rocksteady and Bebop, they're just watching a funny action-packed cartoon. Thus the idea is insidiously planted in their brain -- European culture good -- Black culture bad.

Cowabunga my ass. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Did You Know THIS About Harriet Tubman?

On June 2, 1863 -- 153 years ago today, Harriet Tubman became the only woman in U. S. History to lead a successful military action.
Over 750 slaves were freed because of Tubman’s leadership and heroism. Tubman is recognized as the only women to lead a military mission in the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman led Colonel James Montgomery and African American Union Troops as they attacked plantations on the Combahee River in South Carolina.

Tubman had received information on the location of Confederate mines along the river, she guided three Union Ships down the river around the mines picking up freeing slaves along the way. While the armed attack began on the plantations, the whistles on the steamboats sounded letting area slaves know that freedom was at hand. The slaves ran from the plantations to the steamboats.

Over 750 slaves were freed because of Tubman’s leadership and heroism. Tubman is recognized as the only women to lead a military mission in the Civil War.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I hate when I hear people (usually white people) say that Black people really aren't patriotic.

Me? I'm proud to be known as An Angry-Ass Black Woman, and I'm just as proud to say that I served five years in the United States Navy.

And Memorial Day means as much to Blacks in the United States as to any race here. In fact, the very first gathering to honor fallen soldiers was organized by Blacks.

It was in 1865, the year after the Civil War had ended. Ten thousand people, mainly Black people, gathered to pay homage to Union soldiers who had died fighting to keep the United States as one nation -- and, in doing so, rid the country of slavery.

During the wa r captured Union soldiers were held at the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, which had been turned into a Confederate prison camp. Two-hundred and fifty-seven soldiers died in captivity, and were buried there in a mass grave.

In April 1865, Blacks living in Charleston, along with a few white teachers and missionaries undertook the task of digging fresh graves for each individual soldier, and transferred their bodies, one-by-one, to their new resting places. They built a fence around the site, then constructed an arch with the inscription "Martyrs of the Race Course."

On May 1st, 10,000 paid tribute to the newly re-buried dead. Three thousand led the procession singing John Brown's Body and the Star-Spangled Banner, they were followed by women carrying flowers, wreaths, and crosses. Behind them came the men and Union soldiers. By the time the procession was finished almost the entire site was covered with rose petals.

Both local and national newspapers covered the event -- which was called "Decoration Day" -- including the New York Tribune.

Other cities in both the North and South have claimed to be the first to celebrate Decoration Day, but none of the claims -- that can be verified by newspaper or other published mention -- can be substantiated. It wasn't until the late 1990s that David Blight, a Yale professor, uncovered archives in Charleston that verfied the existence of this early celebration.

In 1868, Major General John A. Logan actually called for Decoration Day to be recognized as a national holiday, and proposed that it be celebrated on May 30th -- the thinking that there would more flowers in bloom at that time. It wasn't until 1967, though, that it officially became a federal holiday.

So there you have it . . . May 1, 1865. Charleston, South Carolina . . . the first organized celebration of what would become Memorial Day was started by grateful newly-freed Blacks.

Don't you just love a teaching moment?

Yes, There Really Was A Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street (aka Little Africa) - Tuls, Oklahoma
May 31, 1921.
Oklahoma. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Just a small area in the town some called Little Africa. Even more called it The Black Wall Street. 
It was a section of town that housed Black lawyers, Black doctors, Black bankers . . . and Black banks. 
It was a source of pride to live there, or to even boast they had relatives who lived there. It's destruction began 95 years ago today -- May 31, 1921 -- and it took only 24 hours and the worst riot in U. S. history to erase the Black Economic Mecca.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy Malcolm X Day, Everybody!!!!!!!

Malcom X, also known as El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, was born on May 19, 1925 as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska

Personally? I don't need the government to tell me what heroes birthdays are worthy of commemoration. 
Do you?