Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Falling Back to Black


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ABOVE PHOTO: Bill Cosby (Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com)
By Karen E. Quinones Miller
This whole Bill Cosby situation has me remembering witnessing a one-car accident in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia back in 1993. 
I was the first one on the scene and helped a well-dressed African American woman out of the car–she had run into a lamppost. 
She clung to me for a moment, and since she didn’t seem hurt, I asked if she needed to use my cell phone. Before she could answer, a group of concerned white people came rushing over to assist, and the African American woman pushed me away so hard and fast I almost fell as she rushed to meet them. 
A little hurt, but much more befuddled, I got back in my car and watched the unfolding scene. 
The group momentarily crowded around her, breathing concern and offers of assistance, but as they realized what I had already ascertained — that the woman was drunk — they slowly peeled away until she was alone. 
She then staggered over to my car, and I let her in, once again offering my phone so she could call for help. After she called her husband, she said she didn’t want to “bad talk white folks,” but my not abandoning her proved that Black people know how to stick together. 
I was so pissed I could have hit her. 
Instead, I told her I had to leave so she’d have to wait outside for her husband and the tow truck. 
It gave me great satisfaction that just as I pulled away it started to pour down rain. 
A couple of years later, when O. J. Simpson was acquitted of killing his wife and Ron Goldman, I remembered that woman and that incident. 
And now, as Bill Cosby makes his appeal to the “Black media,” I’m remembering it again.
I think it is interesting that Cosby has asked the Black media to stay “neutral” regarding the sexual abuse allegations being made against him. Not objective. Neutral.
There is a big difference between neutral and objective. As a wordsmith, I know the difference…and I’m sure Bill Cosby does, too.
During World War II, Switzerland remained neutral. They didn’t join either the Allied or the Axis forces. They didn’t want to choose sides. They wanted to stay out of it; to stay neutral. 
Even when the human atrocities being committed by Hitler and the Nazis came to light, the Swiss continued to be their banker and their vault. In fact, after the war many Jews had to appeal to the Swiss government for the return of their artwork, heirlooms, and personal treasure. 
So, really, the Swiss actually profited from their neutrality. 
To be a neutral journalist means not caring who is right or wrong. 
To be an objective journalist – on the other hand — means not letting your personal biases affect you as you write about what is going on, or blind you as you seek the truth. 
It also means then presenting that truth in a fair and balanced manner.
So, this Black member of the media will not be staying neutral… can’t stay something I never was. 
But I will always strive to be objective. No one should expect me to be more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Join a Writing Group

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 Theresa Brunson                                        Diane McKinney Whetstone




One of the questions I'm asked most often when out on the lecture circuit or out on a book tour is: What advice would you give aspiring authors?
         My answer is always the same. Join a writing group.
         What, you might ask, is a writing group?
It’s simply a group of writers who get together on a regular basis to give each other critiques, advice, and support. And for someone who’s just starting out, it’s the best thing you can do to get your literary career started on the right track.
“It was a tremendously helpful experience for me,” says bestselling author Diane McKinney-Whetstone. “Some writers don’t like to have the writing read, but I loved the feedback I was given.”
McKinney-Whetstone was a member of the Rittenhouse Writers’ Group when penning her first novel, “Tumbling,” which was published in 1999 to critical acclaim.
“I was stealing time from everything – stealing time from my life to work on this novel, and I had no idea if I was doing anything right,” says McKinney, who has since published four other books with Harper-Collins.  “It wasn’t until I joined the group that I finally felt validated. And the criticism was helpful.”
McKinney-Whetstone – who is polishing up a new novel due out late next summer – is one of the most successful novelists to come out The Rittenhouse Writers’ Group, which has been around since 1988. The writing group is actually a series of quarterly writing workshops, and costs more than $500 per quarter.
But a writing group doesn’t have to be pricey to be good. In fact, most writing groups are free and quite worth your while.
Book writing is a solitary task and you can worry for hours, days, or weeks, about whether or not you’ve described something in just the right way. You don’t want to find out when you finally submit your manuscript to a literary agent or a publisher that you did, indeed, get it wrong – because that one little mistake may not be so little in their eyes…and might lead to a rejected manuscript.
“According to my sister – the only one I showed what I knew was soon-to-be a New York Times bestselling novel – I was the greatest writer who ever set pen to paper,” says Veronica Axelrod, a receptionist from North Philadelphia. “But when I started sending it out to literary agents, all I got were rejection letters.”
But not only were they rejection letters, Axelrod says, they were form rejection letters . . . the worst kind. Which meant the agents didn’t even think enough of her writing to give her encouraging comments.
A despondent Axelrod was browsing in a bookstore and saw a posting from a woman looking for writers interested in forming a writing group. She jotted down the number, gave the woman a call, and the following month she was a member of The Love of Writing Writers’ Group.
“It wasn’t until I joined that I found out that my book was constantly changing points of view from first-person to third-person. A big no-no,” Axelrod says with a laugh. “Looking back at that manuscript now, I’m actually embarrassed.”
Love of Writing – which has no membership dues – has seven members and meets at a different member’s home each month. None of the writers have had a book published yet, but four of them have had short stories published in literary magazines.
Theresa Brunson, a Philadelphia attorney, had been working on her novel, “The Get Money Clique,” for years in private, never showing it to anyone. It wasn’t until she attended a writing workshop that she realized that her masterpiece had a big problem.
 The average novel is between 63,000 and 95,000 words long. Brunson’s manuscript was well over 200,000 words.
A few months later, Brunson joined the Eveningstar Writers’ Group. “The Get Money Clique” was trimmed down to a manageable 98,000 words, and she’s received interest from two different major publishers.
“I love the camaraderie that a writing group offers, and the feedback you get from the different personalities in the group,” Brunson says. “It built up my writing skills, but it built my confidence, too.”
Eveningstar, which has no membership dues, was created in 1999 by a group of four women, none of whom had ever published a book. Since its creation, five members have had novels published by major publishers, and two more have self-published their books. Members and past members include the late Leslie Esdaile Banks, Hilary Beard, Jenice Armstrong, Mister Mann Frisby, Fiona Harewood, Akanke Tyra Washington, and, ahem, Karen E. Quinones Miller.
Most writing groups meet once a month, but Eveningstar meets weekly. Members submit up to 20 pages each Sunday, and then meet on Tuesday evenings at a member’s home to have their submissions critiqued.
The good thing about this is everyone’s work gets feedback, and suggestions on next steps, every week. The bad thing is meetings sometimes last up to five hours.
It’s grueling, but it seems to work. At least it does according to Sharai Robbin, who recently signed a two-book contract with Strebor Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
“Meeting weekly keeps me writing since I have to submit something every week,” says Robbin, whose book, “Candace Reign,” will be published next fall. “Eveningstar keeps me accountable, and it keeps me motivated.”
Not all writing groups meet in person. There are a number of groups whose members have never met face-to-face, but get together over the Internet to share and critique each other’s works.
Jennifer Coissiere, author of the self-published novel, “Crossing Over,” has been a member of Snaps 1000 Words for a little over a year. But although she and her fellow members – Shonell Bacon, PR Burson, Makasha Dorsey – all have published or self-published novels, they only use their writing group to critique each other’s short stories and essays.
“Someone had an idea to write 1,000 word stories inspired by a picture, and that’s how the group started,” explained Coissiere, though the members do offer each other encouragement and advice on their individual books.
Coissiere’s group has a website, www.snaps1000words.com; Eveningstar Writers’ Group can be found on Facebook; and the website for the Rittenhouse Writers’ Group is www.rittenhousewritersgroup.com. The Love of Writing Writers’ Group has no Internet presence, and is not currently accepting new members.
So what kind of writing group should you join? It depends on what kind of group fits your needs. Some people prefer groups that meet monthly because of busy schedules. Others prefer weekly groups because it keeps them motivated to write on a daily basis.
Not all writing groups critique all genres. If you’re interested in writing a memoir, make sure that the group you’re considering joining is interested in more than fiction.
My advice would be to ask if you can sit in a couple of meeting to see if you can actually handle the critiques the members offer. And don’t ever join a group where the members are cruel with their critiques, or make them personal. The rule is it’s the work that is to be critiqued – not the author.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Law Enforcement's Message To Black Community


IT WAS BACK in the 1960s, and I was living in Harlem. A white police officer chasing a criminal through the Foster Housing Projects fired at the man and missed. The bullet pierced the skull of a young African-American boy, a bystander.
That lone white officer was surrounded by scores of African-American and Latino residents, and you know what he did? He knelt down and scooped up the boy's lifeless body in his arms, and cried as if it were his own son whom he killed. And do you know what those many housing-project residents did? They tried to comfort the officer. And when the child's mother finally made it to the scene, they told her it was a horrible accident. Many of them then prayed - with the mother and the officer - over the boy's body before it was taken away a few minutes later to the city morgue.
That officer's grief didn't "unshoot" the boy, but it did something else I couldn't name as an 8-year-old watching the scene.
It wasn't until 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., in August that I realized what that something else was. And how much it mattered.
Of course, it would be irrational for anyone to think that Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown, should get down on his knees and cry.
But it would also be irrational to believe that a community wouldn't be up-in-arms about the fact that Brown's body was left in the middle of a street - uncovered and unattended - for more than four hours in the hot August sun. Or that they wouldn't be upset witnessing the police refusing to let his distraught parents approach their dead son.
"Having raised two African-American males, the thought of that happening is just unfathomable," said Linda Richardson, a Philadelphia community activist I spoke with shortly after the incident. "I was just distraught looking at the video and screaming, 'When are they going to put something over him?' To show that kind of disrespect was just unreal and unbelievable."
If Richardson felt that way just watching the video, imagine how the people at the scene felt.
Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman in Ferguson, seemed to feel the same way as Richardson. She told reporters that it was "disrespectful" for the police to have left the body there in plain sight.
"It also sent the message from law enforcement that, 'We can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there's nothing you can do about it.' "
The message sent by law enforcement - that was the "something else" that I couldn't articulate way back in the 1960s.
Harlem is no stranger to riots. They rioted in 1935, in 1943, in 1966, and again in 1968. And, yeah, we had a small riot (by Harlem standards) in Washington Heights, a neighborhood bordering Harlem. All of the riots were started in response to either a police shooting or police brutality.
Yes, Harlemites were veteran rioters. So why didn't they riot after that white police officer killed a very innocent young boy? Maybe because that police officer's very obvious grief sent a message that our feelings, our rights, our lives mattered to him.
Maybe the people in Ferguson did riot the day after Michael Brown was shot because they received a very different message.
In Wilson's testimony to the grand jury that decided whether he would be charged for killing Brown, he described the teenager as looking like a demon; not a human.
And although it's true the citizens of Ferguson - which is 67 percent African-American - were not privy to Wilson's testimony when the rioting started in August, they'd had bitter issues with their police force, which is 94 percent white.
Last year the Missouri Attorney General's Office released a report that said Ferguson police were twice as likely to arrest African-Americans during traffic stops than whites. The U.S. Justice Department is currently conducting a civil investigation to see if that police department has a pattern of using excessive force and/or racial profiling.
Hundreds of African-American citizens of Ferguson stood outside that August afternoon: Looking at the body of an unarmed teenager. Staring at the teenager's family, crying because they were not allowed to check to see if they body was really that of their child. Having their questions ignored by police who refused to give any information. Those citizens received a message that they had been receiving for years - that their feelings, their rights, and perhaps even their lives, meant little to the police.
It's a hard message to receive. A hard message not to answer.
The complete opposite of the message sent that 1960s Harlem summer.
Thank God.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Memories of Old Black Bookstores

I grew up in Harlem, and one of the fondest memories I had growing up was my father taking my twin sister and I to 125th Street to a large store with a bunch of crazy signs and posters outside. Signs like “Repatriation Headquarters – Back to Africa Movement – Recruiting – Register Here!” Posters like “Get Away Jordan. Let Gods Chullon By.” 
To my little 4-year-old mind there seemed to be a million books in the store, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized it was actually a bookstore. A pretty well-known bookstore, at that. – The famous Michaux Bookstore, frequented by the likes of Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver.
But if you had asked me back then, I would have said it was a place for my father to hangout and talk to a bunch of guys about politics, history, and about Crayola having a crayon called “Flesh” that didn’t look like our flesh at all.
When I moved to Philadelphia, I was ecstatic to find there were other bookstores like that here. Bookstores like Hakim’s Bookstore on 52nd Street, where the owner, Dawud Hakim, would sit and talk to teens about respect, and self-awareness, and made sure that they all knew who Carter G. Woodson (“He’s the man who lobbied for the schools to teach you all Black History”), W.E.B. DuBois was (“He was a great man who went to Harvard, and helped start the NAACP.”), and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were (“I don’t even want to hear you not knowing about him.”) 
Hakim also made sure that the parents of those children, knew about the Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys series written by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu when they came to his store. He’d talk to them for a few minutes – or a few hours, if they had the time – and then he’d go into the back of the store and do their taxes if was needed.
Hakim understood what most proprietors of African-American bookstores understood – the vital need in the African-American bookstores fulfilled a vital need in the African-American community. 
“There was a little tiny black bookstore in the Gallery that I used to go to all the time, when I was a teenager,” said Rosalyn McDaniel, an attorney who lives Mt. Airy. “I never knew what I wanted, but that was okay, because the woman who owned the store must have been psychic or something. The first book she recommended to me was Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree, and I remember she was also the one who turned me onto Diane McKinney.”
Basic Black Books was the name of the store, and the owners were not only helpful to readers, but to authors, also.
I self-published my first novel, “Satin Doll,” in 1999 and as any self-published author will tell you – if you want to sell, you’ve got to get on bookshelves. But the problem was it darn near impossible at that time to get into a chain store unless you had a major publisher behind you, or you already had a proven sales record. But, of course, it’s hard to get a sales record if stores won’t carry your books.
I remember walking into Basic Black Books and introducing myself to Lecia Warner Bickerstaff, who owned the store with her husband, Joel. I had 10 copies of Satin Doll with me, and Lecia said she’d take five and see how they sold before ordering more. Two days later I got a call from her. She’d read “Satin Doll,” loved it, and wanted more copies. 
lit-lounge_11-30-14a_SM01PHOTO:  Dawud Hakim, owner of Hakim’s Bookstore, in a picture taken in the 1970s.  (Photo by Yvonne Blake)

“I’ve been telling all of my customers about it. Can you bring me 15 more?” she said. 
Well, she kept on recommending it; and within three months Basic Black Books had sold more than 300 copies of my debut novel. And it was because of them, and other African-American bookstores that my books are now carried in major chain stores nationwide as well as on Amazon.com
But I wasn’t the only author helped by African-American bookstores.
“There’s probably not any self-published author who made it to a major publisher who didn’t do it without the help of the black bookstores,” said Linda Duggins, director of publicity for Grand Central Publishing. 
Many people may not remember, but New York Times bestselling authors like E. Lynn Harris, Omar Tyree, and Kimberla Lawson Roby all self-published their first books.
“It was the black bookstores that got them the recognition to be known throughout the country,” said Duggins. “It was through their efforts that we were all introduced to these authors.”
Basic Black Books is no longer in the Gallery. It closed down in 2003, and was replaced by another African-American bookstore, Horizon Books, which closed earlier this year. Liguorius Books, which opened in the Cheltenham Mall in the mid 1970s shut their doors in 2006. Know Thyself Bookstore and Cultural Center, which was owned by poet and social activist Del Jones and Brother Deke is also a thing of the past, as is La Unique African-American Bookstore which was the only African-American owned bookstore in Camden.
But it’s not the Philadelphia area African-American bookstores that have fallen to the wayside, said Troy Johnson, creator and founder of the African-American Literature Book Club website, better known as AALBC.com.
“African-American bookstores have taken a huge hit because of the super chains like Barnes and Noble, and online superstores like Amazon.com,” said Johnson, who has been tracking African-American publishing since 1998. “Just 10 years ago there were five times as many bookstores nationwide than there are now.”
Johnson, who operates in Harlem, said most African-American bookstores could not compete with the deep discounts offered by the new competitors, and so people started shopping elsewhere. 
But, the declining numbers of African-American bookstores should concern not only authors and avid readers, but the African-American community as a whole, Johnson said.
“These bookstores served not only as establishment that sold books, but also a place where conscious people could meet and discuss various matters affecting the community, and could exchange ideas,” Johnson explains. “African-American bookstores were places that facilitated deep thought and discussions. It’s a shame to see them go.”
Wesley Bryant, 67, of North Philadelphia, would agree.
“I buy all my books at African-American bookstores, and always have,” Bryant said. “I think it’s important to support black businesses, so I do.” 
Bryant, who has a PhD in Social Work said even as a student he only used white-owned bookstores to get text books. When asked if the college bookstores carried African-American books, Bryant said he didn’t know. 
“I never thought to ask, because I wasn’t going to buy them there,” Bryant said with a deep chuckle. “Their focus is not my focus. Never was, and never will be.”
Bryant said he now buys most of his books at Black and Nobel Bookstore, located on Erie Avenue in North Philadelphia.
Hakim Hopkins, the owner, started out as book vendor and opened his store in 2003. It’s a testament to his business acumen that while African-American bookstores all over the country have been struggling to survive, he actually expanded his store last year.
Black and Nobel stocks a variety of books – from novels to non-fiction; from street-lit to religious texts. The store, which has a strong online presence, also ships books to prisons and correctional facilities.  
Black and Nobel is one of only two African-American bookstores left in Philadelphia. The other is Hakim’s Bookstore, which I mentioned much earlier in this article. 
Dawud Hakim died in 1997,  but one of his last wishes – according to his daughter Yvonne Blake – was that the family keep the store open as long as possible. Blake and her sister, Davita Butler, manage the store which is now open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
“My dad’s been dead for 17 years, and my sister and I fully intend to honor his wish, but it’s been hard,” said Blake, who is 63. “The unfortunate thing is that we will likely have to close in another year or so.”
Blake, who is 63, explained that her mother is extremely ill, and she and sister have are struggling to take care of her and also run the business. Sometimes they can get other family members to staff the bookstore, but not always. And there’s simply not enough money to hire full-time clerks. 
“We have some very long-time customers who still come by when we’re open, but our overall customer base has dwindled significantly,” Blake said. “We can hope for a miracle, but unless one comes soon, the store will have to be closed permanently.”
Johnson, who keeps track of the opening and closing of African-American bookstores, said he is saddened by possible closure of Hakim’s Bookstore, and wished more people in the African-American community were also. 
“There’s hardly any discussion about it all, and practically no coverage about the situation in the media. I get the impression that people really don’t stress themselves about it.” Johnson said in a resigned voice. “If they did care, the African-American bookstore might still be viable.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reading is still FUN-damental… The Philly Book Club experience




ABOVE PHOTO:  Brothers and Sisters Book Club members at Warmdaddys event for Sonia Sanchez. (Photo by Karen Q. Miller)
By Karen E. Quinones Miller

“If you want to hide something from a black person, put it in a book.” 
No one knows the author of that now infamous statement, but we’ve all heard it, and many of have cringed when we did. 
Of course it’s not true; but if proof is needed to show the fallacy of the statement, it’s the large number of African American book clubs that exist across the nation. Groups of people who get together to not only read, but to discuss what they’ve read and share opinions.
“Being in a book club has exposed me to a great number of books that I never would have otherwise read, and meet people whom I met never have otherwise met,” said Shirley Coker, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Go On Girl Book Club, an organization that boasts more then thirty chapters nationwide.
Coker’s chapter includes women of all ages and social economic levels – the only common denomination being their love for books. “It leads to great conversations and great fellowship,” she said. 
Edward Cohen, president of Brothers and Sisters Book Club agrees. His club has members as young as 20, and as old as 80. 
“Since the club is so diverse, the meeting and book discussions can sometimes be lively,” he said with a laugh.” Lively, and sometimes heated, but nothing is taken personally.”
Cohen is an avid reader, but also scrabble player, and often played with a group of people which included neighbor, and co-founder of the book club, Marsetta Lee. 
“Whenever we got together to play we’d wind up talking about books that we were reading, the themes, the good and the bad,” said Cohen who was living in Trenton at the time. “Then someone said we need to start a book club.”
The first meeting occurred in 1995, and the first book was Brothers and Sisters by the Bebe Moore Campbell. There were 12 people at the first meeting, and one of the things they decided was that all of the books they read would be by African-American authors. 
“The general public doesn’t seem to realize that African-American writers need additional support. When they list books on the New York Times Best Sellers List, you seldom see African American books, though there are some excellent African-American authors,” explained Cohen, who now lives in South Philadelphia. 
The New York Times Best Seller’s List is based on the number of books bought in a particular week. Cohen adds that the African American community has enough economic power to get good African-American books on the list, but don’t.
“A lot of us support the white authors not realizing we are not supporting our own,” explained Cohen, adding that group wanted to become part of the solution rather than add to the problem. “So we decided that we give them our support.” 
And African American authors acknowledge that they have benefited from the support.  Kimberla Lawson Roby self-published her book, “Here and Now,” in 1997 and met with book clubs in her hometown of Rockford, Illinois, and eventually around the country, to get the word out. And it worked. People started talking about the book and about having met the author. Roby landed a huge publishing deal with a major publisher, and is now a New York Times best selling author. 
“Book clubs have been a huge blessing to me and my writing career for years, and it is the reason I visit with as many of them as possible,” said Roby, whose new book, A Christmas Prayer was published earlier this month.  
Roby now sometimes meets book clubs by Skype or by telephone conference when she’s not able to appear physically. She also hosts an annual contest, open exclusively to book clubs called “Have Dinner with Kimberla Lawson Roby.” 
“It’s my way of giving back to book clubs for making such an amazing and incomparable difference in my life.” 
Eric Jerome Dickey is another author who was pushed to the New York Times bestseller’s list through the help of book clubs.
“If it weren’t for book clubs, I would never have had a career. The word-of-mouth promotion we get from them is more powerful than the ads taken out by the establishment for other writers” said Dickey, whose latest book is “A Wanted Woman.” “If t wasn’t for book clubs, most authors from my community would be dead on vine.”  
Especially new authors, said Mister Mann Frisby, who self-published his first book, Blinking Red Light, in 2002.
“Putting out a new book is a daunting task so when you get 10 to 12 people who love your book it’s like hitting a jackpot,” said Frisby, a former staff writer for The Philadelphia Daily News. “Because while there may only be a dozen women at the book club, these women then go to work, and tell people how much they love the book, and loved meeting the author.”
The snowball effect led to Frisby being offered a publishing contract from Penguin Books, which also published his second book, “Wifebeater.” 
Frisby, who also wrote the acclaimed book, Holla Back: But Make Sure You Listen First, said that he has maintained his contacts with the book clubs, and uses them as test readers – sending them chapters of the new detective story he is writing.
Ashley Richardson, of Mount Airy, started Women Reading for Wisdom Book Club in September. Their first book was Dusty Crowns by Heather Lindsey, and the next book on their agenda is The Art of Activation, by Lucinda Cross.
“It started as something informal, a few of my friends and people they invited,” explained Richardson, 26, a native of Mount Airy. 
But book clubs aren’t something exclusive to adults. The Overbrook Park Teens Book Club meets twice a month at the Overbrook Library, and read a variety of books that deal with the subjects adolescents deal with in real life. 
“It’s been a great experience for me,” said Erykah Raleigh, 16, a sophomore at Girls High School. “I’ve been reading since I was six, and it’s good to interact with people my age who like to read, and see how they feel about what we’ve read.” 
Each member of the group, which started in 2011, takes turns selecting a group read. Raleigh said her turn is coming up next, and she is considering offering up, Pinned, by Sharon G. Flake.
Raleigh and other members of book clubs are living proof that African-Americans do read, and seem to live out the motto of Black Nationalist leader, Malcolm X.
“Read absolutely everything you get your hands on because you’ll never know where you’ll get an idea from.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Kidnapping Suspect's Uncle Recognized Him From Videotapes - But Did Not Notify Police











An edited version of this story appeared in
Philadelphia Daily News

PHILADELPHIA -- It was horrific. A 22-year-old nursing assistant viciously kidnapped in Philadelphia; a video showing her kicking, struggling against her assailant who -- it  was later discovered -- allegedly kidnapped, raped, and attempted to murder a 16-year-old girl just a month before.

But there may be something more horrific: A relative of the suspect could have notified the police of the man’s identity, but chose not to.

“I suspected it was him,” Lamar Barnes, answered when asked on the cable network show, Dr. Drew On Call last night if he recognized his nephew, Delvin Barnes  from the many videotapes and photographs released by the police.

When the show’s host, Dr. Drew Pinsky, then asked why he didn’t call the police, Lamar Barnes answered that family doesn’t turn over family members to the police. Then added: Especially people of color.

Carlesha Freeland-Gaither's kidnapping ordeal ended Wednesday – three days after her abduction, through the efforts of law enforcement officials in three states, and the help on one man -- Dwayne Fletcher, 37, who witnessed the ordeal, and immediately called the police, using a cell phone that Freeland-Gaithers had deliberately dropped on the sidewalk during the attack.

But it might have ended sooner if Barnes’ uncle or any other family member had contacted the police as soon as they suspected it was him in the video.

When asked if police department had any comment about Lamar Barnes' admission, Public Affairs Officer Jillian Russell would only say: "At this point, Carlesha is safe and [Delvin Barnes] is custody and we are going to let the prosecution process take place."

Philadelphia community activist Maisha Ongoza said there may be systemic reasons for people of color to hesitate going to the police.

“But let’s make it clear, it’s not because they have some allegiance to crime. I think it’s more of a fear that if they turn someone in that person might get beaten by the police, or not get a fair hearing,” said Ongoza, who recently retired as coordinator of the Say Yes to Education, Bryant Chapter.

Ongoza also wanted to make clear that she believes that Barnes’ uncle should have notified the police when he suspected that his nephew was the perpetrator, especially since he knew about Barnes’ violent history towards women.

Barnes was arrested in 2005 for breaking into the home of his estranged wife, hitting and choking her, and then attacking her parents when they tried to come to her aide. According to reports Barnes was sent away for seven years and, moved to Virginia when released last year.

Just last month Barnes allegedly walked up on a 16-year-old girl in Virginia and hit her in the head with a shovel; he then kidnapped and raped her, then showed her photographs of other girls who he said were his previous victims. Barnes is said to have doused the girl with bleach and gasoline, and had started digging her grave. Miraculously, the girl was able to escape. DNA evidence linked Barnes to the crime, and Virginia authorities put out a warrant for his arrest.

Surveillance cameras show Freeland-Gaither had just gotten off a SEPTA bus at the intersection of Coulter and Greene streets at 9:40 p.m. Sunday when she was approached by a man who grabbed her. Though she fought him all the way, he dragged her to his car and shoved her inside.

The sole witness to the crime was Fletcher, and Philadelphia police have said that had it not been for him, they may not have even known, until too late, that a crime had been committed.

The question, though, is whether the crime could have been more quickly solved if Lamar Barnes had notified the police when he suspected the man shown in the pictures and videotapes was his nephew.


“That’s just preposterous. He ought to be ashamed of himself,” said 26-year-old East Oaklane resident, Gelea L. Matthews when she heard about Lamar Barnes' remarks on the show. “I understand family ties, but you have a duty, as a human being, to say something when you know someone’s life in danger.”

Supreem Da Rezarekta’, a well-known Philadelphia MC, said that there was simply no justifiable excuse for anyone who recognized Delvin Barnes on the videotape to sit back and do nothing.

“I even understand the whole ‘no-snitch’ stuff, but the deal is sometimes you have to step up and do the right thing,” said the entertainer. “Don’t worry about the code of the streets or anything. How would he feel if it was his daughter?”

In his defense Lamar Barnes, who has said that he has a daughter and granddaughters, claimed that if he knew how to contact his nephew he would have tried to convince him to turn himself in.

Lamar Barnes also told Dr. Drew that he wished the Freeland-Gaither’s family well, and is glad that their daughter is back home with them. 

Filed 8:05 a.m. by Karen E. Quinones Miller

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Cosby: His Life and Times (non) Book Review



The package arrived last Wednesday – November 12 — and I opened it to see the book I had requested from Harper Collins – Cosby: His Life and Times. When I called the publisher, the day before, the accusations of rape against Bill Cosby had just begun to surface. Old accusations, that had been hurled and heard before. 

But by the next day, when I was actually holding the book in my hand, a full media storm was in force. The Washington Post had published an op-ed written by Barbara Bowman, an actress who knew Cosby in the 1980s. She stated that Cosby drugged and raped her. The online article received more than 1 million views. 

I quickly flipped to the index of the 532-page book, to see if Bowman was referenced in the book. She was not. But, okay, the woman had not filed charges, although there were allegations – and decades after the alleged event. 

Nor was Joan Tarshis, an actress, who said she was raped – twice — by Cosby in 1969 when they were both working for the Universal Studios, named in the book. She told her story to the Hollywood Press. But, again, still she pressed no charges against Cosby back then. So, yeah, I could see why there might not be mention of her. 

I then looked to see if he referenced Janice Dickinson, the well-known super model, who now alleges that Cosby raped her back in 1970.  Not there.

But surely Whitaker had mentioned Andrea Constand. She was the former Temple University assistant coach who not only accused Cosby of rape, but did file charges against him in 2005. She alleged that she was at Cosby’s home in Cheltenham, and he gave her a pill to “ease my anxiety,” along with a glass of wine. She said then she felt drowsy, and the next thing she knew Cosby was sexually assaulting her, and she was helpless to stop him. 

Cosby’s lawyer called the charges preposterous at the time, but when California attorney Tamara Green heard about Constand’s accusations she went on NBC’s Today Show, to say that she had been sexually assaulted by Cosby in the 1970s after he gave her wine and a pill. She said that although she didn’t come forward earlier, since hearing that he’d done it again, she felt obligated to do so, saying: “Even two are too many.” 

Bruce Castor, then Montgomery County District Attorney, declined to begin a prosecution against Cosby on Constand’s charges, saying that there was not enough evidence. 

But Constand would not go away quietly. In March 2005 she filed a civil lawsuit against Cosby, which stated that there were 12 other women who would testify that they, too, had been assaulted by Cosby. Green was one of the women willing to testify; another was identified by the Philadelphia Daily News as Beth Ferrier, who said that she was drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby in Denver in the 1980s.  

In November 2006, Cosby and Constand settle out of court for an undisclosed amount, which means that none of the women willing to testify on Constand’s behalf would be heard in court. This prompted Barbara Bowman, another one of the women who Constand would have called to the stand, to come forward and tell People Magazine that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her in the 1970s.

But none of this was in the Cosby book, which was written by Mark Whitaker, an editor for Newsweek Magazine, which I found interesting, since Newsweek had earlier published a story in which Tamara Green talked about seeing Cosby in Las Vegas, and running after him yelling, “liar” and “rapist.” Perhaps it was because Cosby cooperated with Whitaker for the book, which instantly hit the New York Times seller’s list. 
Things quieted down for a while, until comedian Hannibal Buress did a standup show here in Philadelphia, Cosby’s hometown, in October and made reference to the sexual allegations against him. 

“Bill Cosby has the f—ing smuggest old black man public persona that I hate,” Buress said during his performance. “He just gets on TV – ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches.”

Buress goes on to tell his laughing audience: “I’ve done this bit on stage, and people don’t believe me. People think I’m making it up. If you didn’t know about it, when you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny.”

Well, someone must have finally taken Buress seriously, because a taping of his act was put on YouTube, and quickly went viral. 

Whitaker’s biography on Cosby’ was published in September, a month before Buress shot the rape allegations onto headlines, but Whitaker didn’t need the comedian to remind him of them. He just chose to ignore them. 

When asked why he hadn’t mentioned any of numerous rape allegations – and not even Constand’s civil suit which Cosby had settled out of court – Whitaker told the press: “In these cases, there were no definitive court findings, there were no independent witnesses, and I just felt, at the end of the day, all I would be doing would be, ‘These people say this, Cosby denies this.’ And not only as a reporter but his biographer, if people asked me, ‘What is the truth? What do you think?’ I would be in the position of saying, ‘I don’t know,’ and I just felt uncomfortable.”

Yeah, uh, and I, uh, feel uncomfortable with Whitaker’s answer.

I’m a veteran reporter myself, and while I would waiver about writing about the rape allegations that came in decades after the fact (not to say I would or wouldn’t, but I would waiver), I would have – without a doubt – written about Cosby settling that lawsuit with Constand. 

But let’s be clear it doesn’t mean that I think the allegations are true. It also doesn’t mean I think they’re not. 
“I’m from South Philly, and I love and respect Bill Cosby, especially because of all he’s done for young black men, and the black community,” said John Munson, 57, an emergency medical technician. “But, still when something keeps coming back, it seems like some things must be true. I don’t want to look at like that, but it’s hard not to."

Greg McKinley, a member of the organization Men United for a Better Philadelphia said he’s waiting on proof, but admits he has concerns about the validity of the accusations. “Anything is possible, but I find it strange that all these allegations are being made by white women. It It’s just opens a whole subject of a type of attack that has historical precedent.” 

McKinley, who lives in West Philadelphia, also said the fact that these accusations are being made long after the statute of limitations have expired also seems suspect to him.  ”Let’s face it, this is a man under more scrutiny as an individual than the Catholic Church as an institution."

But Maisha Ongoza, a longtime community activist who also worked as a social worker, said she believed Andrea Constand was assaulted, and also believes the other allegations made by the other women are true. 
“I’ve worked with people who were sexually assaulted, and I’ve done a lot of research on them. They don’t always come forward immediately…” said Ongoza who recently retired as coordinator of the Say Yes to Education, Bryant Chapter. “I’ve always believed he was a serial sexual molester, so these allegations do not surprise me in the least.” 

Ongoza adds that it may be too late because of the statute of limitations for it the cases to be tried in a criminal court but Cosby is now, deservedly being, “tried in the court of public opinion.” 

Forty-year-old Terry McIntyre said she believes in “innocent until proven guilty,” but says it’s not to believe something happened with the large number of women who have come forward, and basically telling the same story.

“But a lot of people looked up to this man, especially kids growing up watching the Cosby Shows,” said McIntyre,  “And a lot of people are acting like we’re now talking about Dr. Huxtable, and not Bill Cosby the man.”

As a result of the recent uproar, Netflix has canceled a special on Bill Cosby celebrating his 77th birthday, and NBC has cancelled an upcoming pilot for a series in which Cosby would have starred as a patriarch of a three-generation family. TV Land even went as far as canceling the reruns they’ve been showing The Cosby Show – the comedy series that first made the star a household name.

Interestingly, Bruce Castor, the district attorney who decided not to press the charges against Cosby in the Constand case hinted, after he left office, that he did believe Constand, and that detectives who interviewed the star felt that he was being evasive. 

Castor, who now serves on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, seems relieved that the Cosby allegations is once again in the news.

“Now I can say I thought he did it,” Castor told the media Wednesday. “But back then, I would have been accused of tainting the jury that was going to hear the civil case.”

As for me, I’ve decided not to review the book. 

Not because I believe Cosby is guilty, but because I’m uncomfortable.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Real Deal


You know what bothers me? While it's true the Stand Your Ground Law on the books in Florida and other states should be struck down, the real deal is George Zimmerman didn't bother to use it in his defense. He knew what we find so hard to face . . . they don't need a specific law to "legally" kill us.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rallies Being Held for Philadelphia Teen Brutalized by Police




Darrin Manning is a 16-year-old high school basketball player, a straight A student, and has a spotless school disciplinary record. But now, thanks to an incident with the Philadelphia Police, the young man may never become a father.

Arrested earlier this month on what looks like trumped up charges, the teenager was allegedly manhandled by police officers and had to have emergency surgery to repair damage to his genitals.

Philadelphia attorney and political/social activist Michael Coard said he was outraged about the incident. "During the 18th and 19th century slavery they beat then castrated men. During the 20th and 21st century police brutally beat then castrate boys," said Coard. "The more things change, the more they stay the same." 

Outraged Philadelphians are holding both a community meeting and a rally, next week, in response to the event.


"What? Is this like the 2014 castration?" said Philadelphia social activist Akanke Washington, who learned of the event from her college student daughter. "I'm already a nervous wreck with a daughter, but the attacks on boys are so different that I think if I had a son I'd have to leave the United States."

On January 7, Manning -- a student at Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School in the Center City section of Philadelphia -- traveled by subway with about a dozen teammates to North Philadelphia to practice at the Berean Institute. Though the school's basketball team is ranked 16th in the nation, it does not have it's on gym and is forced to take a subway and  trolley to practice.

As Manning and his teammates walked out of the subway station at the corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue, they noticed a couple of police officers. Manning later said that one of the teenagers who was with him may have said something to the police, so when the officers approached them, they all ran.

But, Manning, added, he decided to stop since he knew he had done nothing wrong. But that is, when it seems, everything went dreadfully wrong.

According to a police report of the incident, Police Officer Thomas Purcell (who is white) stopped Manning after he spotted him with a group of black males wearing ski masks and running. It's not clear why Purcell felt a need to stop Manning -- or any of the other teens -- as there doesn't seem to be any city, state, or federal law against a group of black males wearing ski masks.

And Manning insists they weren't even wearing ski masks, just scarves given to them by Veronica Joyner, founder of Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School.

Joyner confirmed that she had given all of the high school basketball players scarves just before they departed the school on their way to the Berean Institute. Temperatures in Philadelphia reached a low of 4 degrees that day.

The police report goes on to say that Purcell called for backup after Manning started fighting with the officer.

But Manning says he was surrounded by police, roughed up, and hit with a pair of handcuffs before the cuffs were finally placed on him. It was while he was handcuffed, he said, that a female officer gave him a rough pat down while other officers laughed.
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99

"She patted me down, and she touched my butt and then my private parts," Manning told a Philadelphia Daily News reporter. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts, and I felt something pop."
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140116_High_school_student_says_cops_roughed_him_up_for_nothing.html#Bte7t16ZlYYBPZzJ.99

According to Fox News, records show that Manning spent the night following his arrest at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he underwent emergency surgery. Police confirm that no officers sustained injuries.

Manning's mother, Ikea Coney, told reporters that doctors told her that her son may have permanent damage that could prevent him from fathering children, adding: "I'm just glad they didn't kill him."
Darrin Manning, a student at Math Civics Science Charter school, was allegedly hurt during an arrest by Philadelphia police. Photograph with his mother Ikea Coney at the school on Monday, January 13, 2014. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
The teenager, who is still in a wheelchair, is facing charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest. 

"This is just totally acceptable," said community activist Maisha Ongoza, director of the Philadelphia chapter of Say Yes to Education, a national non-profit education foundation committed to increasing the high school and college graduation rates of inner-city youth.

"I have grandchildren his age, and I have children in my program his age, and it's sad knowing they can be subjected to this kind of treatment by police," said Ongoza

An emergency town hall meeting is being convened by Techbook Online, on Tues., Jan 21 at 7:30 p.m to address the Manning case. Community activists Gabriel Bryant and Asa Khalif are scheduled to speak at the meeting which is being held at Catalyst for Change Ministries, 3727 Baring Street.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Action Network is holding a rally at Broad Street and Girard Avenue on Thurs., Jan 23rd, to demand the arrest of the female officer who "maliciously sexually assaulted" Manning, and a broadened federal investigation into instances of brutality by Philadelphia police. No speakers have yet to be announced for the rally which is scheduled to be held between 4 and 5:30 p.m.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Teenage Racist Ninja Turtles




So . . . there's going to be a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie released in 2014, starring -- among others, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, and Whoopie Goldberg, and written by TMNT creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

There are a bunch of people who are excited about the prospect. I'm not one of them.I'm not going to see it.

I've never gotten over the original series which was originally shown on television in the late-1980s through the 1990s. It was racist. And it was shown on national television to our children. Wait, let me go further . . . it wasn't just racist, it was subliminally racist; which is the worst kind of all.

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