Palm Sunday, the Crucifixion, and the Criminal Justice System

Today is Palm Sunday. All lectionary churches read from The Passion of Christ from the Gospel According to Mark, believed to be, according to Biblical scholars, the first written account of the four Gospels. (It’s actually one Gospel, with four accounts of the life and death of Jesus – from Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.)

When I studied theology, I learned about the different ways to look at Biblical texts. There is the religious-confessional approach (think the Nicene Creed); the historical-critical approach; and a literary-critical approach. However, as a criminal justice practitioner, I tend to look at certain texts in the Bible from a criminal justice lens.

The arrest, trial, conviction, sentence and execution of Jesus reads like a true crime story one would read today. The accusers and prosecutors are people who have something to gain; the “eyewitnesses” are unreliable; Jesus’ co-conspirators or codefendants betray and deny him; Jesus has no lawyer to defend him (note that before the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, there was no universal requirement that people accused of crimes and standing trial would have legal representation); Jesus has a speedy trial (ironically, something most people do not get today; think Kalief Browder, a teenager, who was held on Rikers Island for nearly three years awaiting his day in court for a crime he did not commit); Jesus is sentenced to the death penalty; he has an indifferent judge who could care less if he lives or dies; a blood thirsty public that calls for his execution as they mock and abuse him; police brutality on his way to death row; and faithful women who are there till the end.

A number of years ago, I gave a homily on this passage, entitled, “We Are All on Trial.” In it I stated something like what the cross revealed that fateful day was where all the players stood in relation to the cross, to justice. How they responded in that moment revealed where they stood on the important issues of crime and punishment. Today, the cross still carries that message. Every crime implicates the People of any given state, in that everything that plays out in the criminal legal system is done in the name of the People, The People of the State of New York v. Anyone Accused of a Crime.

If this thing called criminal justice is done in our name, then we ought to make it as fair and impartial as humanly possible. Otherwise, justice is just a word. But it should be more than that, because people are deprived their precious liberty, held in prison for extraordinarily long periods of times, and sometimes executed in the name of People.

One of my favorite justice quotes, which I almost always looked to find a way to sprinkle in a legal brief or motion, was, Fiat justitia ruat caelum. I would cite it just like that, without the translation, hopefully sending opposing counsel and the judges, who might as well had been dead to the idea of justice, thus their penchant for communicating in a dead language, to the definitive legal dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary.

Let just be done though the heavens fall.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Good White Woman is Hard to Find

I recently met some amazing people, one a Flannery O’Connor Scholar, which had me revisit O’Connor’s works. Granted, I hadn’t read her since college, a very long time ago, where almost all literature courses had you reading dead white men and dead white women, but I still remember the first story I read by O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As most things with O’Connor, she is complicated, and conflicted. The tragedy is that she died so young, and thus didn’t have the opportunity to repent of her sins, rooted in America’s sin of slavery and segregation.

In any event, a friend and colleague suggested that I write a poem or two about Flannery O’Connor’s work for an upcoming conference in which I’ll be participating, and thus I returned to the first story I read by her, twisting her title, using my favorite form, the Pantoum.

“I don’t like negroes.  They . . . give me . . . pain.”

Frankly, Flannery, I don’t give a damn!

The good ship “Anne” landed in 1773, colonizing

“Georgia,” slavery’s outpost, ‘till the Atlanta Campaign.

 

Frankly, Flannery, I don’t give a damn,

About your antebellum architecture and race ideas!

It’s not 1773, or 1863;

You seemingly don’t want to live in 1963.

 

Not of this brave new world, your antebellum ways and race ideas!

William T. Sherman scorched the blood cotton fields.

All is lost, yes!, all is lost – the Lost Cause.

We march to the beat of a different drum major!

 

William T. Sherman scorched the blood cotton fields,

As the Union Army marched to the sea to claim victory.

Yes, we march to the beat of a different drum major,

Marching, singing, and overcoming your hate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Drop the Soap!”

“Don’t drop the soap!” That phrase, with its origins in prison, has made its way into popular culture. Comedians invoke it, and even spin it. Chris Rock, for example, in one of his skits, talks about the “tossed salad” in prison. In the HBO Series, OZ, there’s an episode where not only is an individual raped, but the rapist also brands him with a tattoo: “Your ass belongs to me!”

Prison rape is real, and only recently have we as a society seem to have taken it seriously. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was unanimously passed by Congress in 2003, a mere 18 years ago. Often, when we think of prison rape, we might think of an older person in prison, usually male, sexually assaulting a younger, more vulnerable person in prison. (There is the scene from the Shawshank Redemption where a new jack is repeatedly raped. One person comments that this is practically a ritual in prison, that it happens to almost everyone.) It happens in women’s prisons, too, with the added element of male guards raping the women in their “care.”

In the famous, award-winning prison news magazine, The Angolite (out of Angola Prison in Louisiana), a 1976 expose, “The Sexual Jungle,” spoke to the prevalence and horrors of prison rape.

People in prison, as a formerly incarcerated individual reminded me, often become desensitized to the brutality that’s present behind the walls everyday. Additionally, the famous prison gallows humor comes into play, where some laugh, because they are desensitized to the violence, and to prevent themselves from crying, which would show them as vulnerable and thus put on the “watch list” of those in prison who prey on others.

During the heyday of AIDS, a bootie bandit, as these rapists are called in prison, confided in me that he had to retire from being a bootie bandit, as if it was a profession, because of AIDS. He was notorious for seducing younger persons in prison, as young as 16, who had not yet discovered their sexual identity. (Those in the know will testify to the fact that this “seduction” is often the tactic used to rape younger people in prison.) This bootie bandit was well read, and in these matters acted like, and invoked, Roman Emperors, think Caligula.

Prison is the absence of ________ (fill in the blank with everything you hold near and dear, and you just get a glimpse into the world of prison, a place not only of brutality, but also ignorance).

Angela Davis, in her autobiography, If They Come in the Morning, writes that jails are “senseless places.” She goes on to write that they are senseless in the sense that no thinking is done by their administrators, and that the void created by this absence of thought is filled with nonsensical rules, and the fear of establishing a precedent, meaning a rule they have not yet digested.

To illustrate the point above, a number of years ago I was at a fundraiser of a friend who started a nonprofit organization serving women impacted by the criminal legal system. Ernie Hudson was the keynote speaker. As some of you may know, he played the Warden in OZ. He recounted how he got phone calls from real wardens, asking him for advice on how to run their prisons. I remember laughing hysterically, and thinking of the above quote by Angela Davis.

But prison rape is no laughing matter!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fifty Shades of Green

The title of this blog may have led you to it, perhaps thinking that it was going to be something freaky about the Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day.  Granted, today I’ve seen sexy pictures of women in green on social media, but that is not what this blog is about.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  He was born in Britain, which was then occupied by the Romans.  According to the autobiographical Confessio of Patrick, when he was 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he was held captive for six years.  While in captivity, Patrick turned to faith and ultimately converted to Christianity.  He would eventually escape and make his way back to Britain, where he continued to study Christianity.

As is often the case with religious figures, Patrick had a vision that would lead him back to Ireland where, over the centuries, he becomes a mythical creature, given credit for, among other things, banishing snakes from Ireland.  The shamrock, which is often associated with the Irish, was used by Patrick as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity.  Patrick’s walking stick grows into a living tree.  (Think the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Good and Evil.)  And Patrick speaks with ancient Irish ancestors.  (Think Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah.)

March 17th is believed to be the day that St. Patrick died.  Different accounts date his death, in 461/2 and 492/3, at the age of 120.  (Think the long life the Patriarchs are said to have lived.)

So, this March 17th, especially in New York City, we are all Irish.  Because of the pandemic, the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade is virtual.  The bars will not overflow with patrons.

This St. Patrick’s day, though, I think of my mother, and what she once told us as kids.  “Today, you’re going to meet your white relatives.”  I imagine she said this with tongue-in-cheek.  I don’t recall the day we met these white relatives.  I do know that 3% of my DNA is from Wales, and 2% is from Scotland.  I don’t think this makes me “Black Irish,” but it speaks to the role of the Irish during the era of slavery in the “New World.”

My maternal grandparents came to America in 1919 and 1923, by way of Panama and Barbados, not on a slave ship, but another ship, and was processed through Ellis Island.  AncestryDNA revealed a second cousin connected to this part of my family tree.  He is white, as we identify people of European descent in America.  My paternal side has roots firmly planted in the South, in North Carolina.  Interestingly, when I get as far back as 1805, one of my ancestors is listed on the census records as a “mulatta.”  I am shaking my family tree, as hard as I can, to see what white people will fall out, but they are holding on tightly, not wanting to be exposed, at worst, rapists, at best, absentee fathers for the children they sired.

As far back as I can remember, on St. Patrick’s Day, our mother would make sure we wore something green.  I don’t think this was to be in solidarity with our white ancestors.  Black people are people of great empathy.  They share in and celebrate other people’s culture.  You can see us celebrating the Chinese New Year, the West Indian Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, etc.  We do know how to be in solidarity with others.  Others seem not to know how to be in solidarity with us.  Other races should look to Black folk.  There is so much to learn from us, about empathy, compassion, resilience, and triumph.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“Sound of da Police”

In his 2000 album, his first solo album, “Return of the Boom Bap,” KRS-One has a classic rap about da police, entitled, “Sound of da Police.” The chorus begins:

Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police

Woop-woop! that’s the sound of da beast!

KRS-One goes on to rap about cops who sell crack, that he’d never be a cop, comparing a cop to a “wicked overseer!” (In one of my collections of poetry, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, a 2000 National Poetry Series competition finalist, I compare Blue Knights to White Knights, pointing out the historical connection.)

When we look at the cops and community relations, specifically in communities of color, KRS-One hits the bull’s-eye!:

You hotshot, wanna get props and be a savior

First show a little respect, change your behavior,

Change your attitude, change your plan

Just the other day, in the heart of the ‘hood, I saw the following bumper sticker on a cop’s personal car in front of the 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn.

That’s on the left side of the bumper of the cop’s personal car.

I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again and again: Black people are not anti-police. They simply don’t want to call the police when a relative is having a mental health meltdown and that relative, instead of finding the help he or she needs, is shot, oftentimes fatally. They don’t want to hear specious justifications for the killing of unarmed Black men, women and children. They don’t want police officers offering “funny” Valentines, kneeling on the necks of unarmed people until they “take their breath away.” They don’t want police storming into apartments at the midnight hour with no-knock warrants and killing people in their homes.

On the right side of the bumper of the cop’s personal car:

We know, through the crimes of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, how some white people who swear by “law and order” really feel about it when it is not being wielded against Black people, that is, Blue Lives Only Matter as a counterpoint to Black Lives Matter, as if the origin story of #BlackLivesMatter is made up. #BlackLivesMatter speaks to all the killings of people by law enforcement. The Fake News proponents would like to change this narrative, but it is now a global movement that stands up to unwarranted and unjustified police violence. Let me say that again: unwarranted and unjustified police violence.

Obviously, this cop and his/her bumper sticker speaks volumes about the attitude of some cops — let me remind them that Black people pay taxes that pay their salaries — about serving and protecting communities of color. Yes, that’s the sound of da police!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Happy Black History Week!

Dear Black People, My People (although I suspect some enlightened white people, and some who are the enemies of Black people, will read this)!

Preamble: This should be a self-evident truth. We do not have to prove ANYTHING to white people, least of all our humanity. In fact, the burden of proof is on white people, to prove that they can at the very least act humanely towards Black people.

Happy Black History Week, formerly Negro History Week, created by one of our Black scholars, Carter G. Woodson, in 1926! (It was observed during the second week of February, a symbolic nod to Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, born in the second week of February). Forty-four years later, we celebrated and declared the whole month of February, albeit the shortest month of the year, Black History Month. The goal is to have every single month Black History Month! I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again and again: Black history is American history, and there is NO American History without Black History!

This Black History Week, I want to draw attention to the “White Privilege Playbook.” (I believe I coined this phrased, so if you use it, then please give me credit!)

Most if not all Black people are familiar with the terms from the White Privilege Playbook, because it has been weaponized against us, although I believe they have not yet been catalogued. The below list is NOT exhaustive, just the tip of the White Privilege Iceberg. I’ll begin with two that have been added within the last four years:

cancel culture;

FAKE News;

reverse discrimination;

affirmative action;

unconscious racism;

white fragility;

the race card;

political correctness;

“Go back to Africa!) (Often exclaimed by whites who do not have a longer history in America than Black people).

Note that all these terms have a connotation clearly understood by white people, even when they find it hard to articulate. And Black people know that all of these terms are false flags. If you don’t, Black People, My People, then my book recommendation for you this Black History Week is from our very own Black scholar, Carter G. Woodson, who created Black History Week, “The Miseducation of the Negro.

The Racial Divide in America is due in large part because most Americans are indoctrinated and miseducated. We should all be lifelong learners, although there’s a lot of stuff we have to unlearn!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Black Lives Have Always Mattered

More than 20 years ago, long before #BlackLivesMatter, I noticed a disturbing trend: almost everyday in the news there was a case of police brutality, mostly against Black people, with a few white people sprinkled in because, even though this police brutality is often wielded like a billy club against Black people, it can be indiscriminate, in that when it is unleashed, anyone in the way of the blue wave of violence is knocked down by it.

As a poet, I started writing a poem for each case of police brutality that was reported. Before I knew it, and without conscious design, because I had written so many of these poems, I had a collection, which I entitled, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats. This collection was a National Poetry Series Finalist in 2000.

As I have written elsewhere, a tree growing even in Brooklyn has a different meaning for Black people. We unconsciously shiver at the sight of a tree, even during the dog days of August. And although we often associate lynch mobs with the South, during the Draft Riots in NYC in 1863, a number of Black people were lynched, including a 7 year old boy. Indeed, lynching practically became an American pastime. There are numerous photos turned into postcards of both sober and smiling white men, women and children around Black bodies hanging from trees. Before social media was envisioned, white people proudly, as brutal and bloodly cautionary tales, recorded their dirty and deadly deeds against Black people.

This history will not die, despite how far too many white people want to bury it. In fact, when you have lived though these events, it is not history. This “history” almost always makes me think of my father, a native Southern Son, who had migrated North to New York City and met my mother, a first generation Bajan. In the ’60s and ’70s, every Fourth of July, my father would get in his Cadillac and drive South to visit his father and his family. He never took me, his first born son, on any of these trips. I didn’t understanding it at the time, but my father had served in the segregated U.S. Army as a teenager during WW II. I was born five years after Emmett Till was brutally killed by white Southerners. I can only imagine how that image played in my father’s mind, and all Black fathers, that they could not protect their sons from this virulent white violence. To protect me, he left me home when he journeyed South.

As a native New Yorker, when I traveled South as an adult, I was taken aback by all the monuments and statues to the treasonous Confederacy. Nonetheless, I know they are there to stand guard, to remind Black people of their place in the Southern hierarchy and landscape.

This passage through memory lane reminds me how the past and the present are connected, how the lynch mobs are connected White Knights and Blue Knights.

In one of my poems in Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, “Blue Knight Riders,” I write:

They don’t wear white sheets

Or burn crosses in the night,

But there’s an unmistakable connection

Between these blue and white knights.

#BlackLivesMatter

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Terrorist You Know

Canada has declared the “far right” group the Proud Boys a terrorist group, which has various implications, even going after fundraising and funding sources, that is, bank accounts linked to the group may be frozen and assests seized. The United States, however, does not even have a law or Executive Order to designate an entity like the Proud Boys a “domestic terrorist group.”

When we look at the history of domestic terrorism in the United States, culminating in the January 6th Trump-inspired Insurrection, in which the Proud Boys were prominently involved, it is almost always white violence against Black people.

There is a long list of this white violence against Black people in America, lest we forget, and it is worth noting that in almost every single case no one was brought to justice. In fact, we know who the domestic terrorists were, because they proudly posed and took pictures in front of the buildings they burned and the black bodies they beat, burned, castrated and hung. (Most recently, they live streamed their crimes on social media.)

There are the Draft Riots of 1863 in New York CIty, in which eleven Black men were hung, including a 7-year-old boy. The Reign of Terror from 1877 – 1950, when 4,400 Black men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs. The Red Summer (Black Summer) of 1919, which saw 25 race riots rage across the country, in which there are 97 recorded lynchings, and the massacre of over 200 Black men, women and children in Elaine, Arkansas, Black sharecroppers whose crime was trying to organize for better work conditions. Interestingly, many white servicemen were involved in these race riots. There was a lot of anxiety among them, because there were 380,000 Black World War I veterans who had returned to the United States determined to fight segregation and brutality. In fact, the Black servicemen were the targets of the white servicemen. But Black Summer marked when Black veterans, armed and trained, fought back. In a sense, this is perfectly captured by Claude Mckay in his famous poem about Black Summer, “If We Must Die.” McKay concludes his sonnet thus:

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The Tulsa race massacre of 1921 (the Black Wall Street), where up to 300 people were killed.

These were all acts of domestic terrorism, and even though the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have classified groups like the Ku Klux Klan as hate groups, even the KKK has not been seen as a domestic terrorist group, with all the Black blood on its white robes.

The United States, specifically our politicians, seem to coddle the terrorists we know, perhaps because historically Black people were their targets. With the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, perhaps this will change. President Biden has asked the director of national intelligence for a comprehensive threat assessment of domestic violent extremism. Hopefully this will lead to a law or an Executive Order where such groups like the Proud Boys can be labeled domestic terrorists, as our neighbors on the Northern border have.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Black History Month!

Today, February 1, 2021, is Black History Month. Before there was Black History Month, there was Black History Week. Actually, then it was called “Negro History Week.”

In 1926 (the year my father was born), historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” The second week was chosen, symbolically, in that it was the same week of the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Black History Month has its origins with Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970. Six years later, during America’s Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every endeavor throughout our history.” Indeed, Mr. President, there is no American history without Black American history!

The counterpoint to the “too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americas” is the writing of history that celebrates Christopher Columbus and the Confederacy.

It is not revisionist history to include history intentionally left out or slanted to make villians out to be heroes. In fact, in what country in the annals of history have rebels who started a Civil War and lost it are continuously honored with statues and memorials for more than 150 years after their defeat? Only in America!

I have read De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and The Federalist Papers as well as “American history” that has left out the accomplishments of Black Americans. But I have also read W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson, exemplary, exacting Black scholars. On the other hand, how many white students of American history have been introduced to the works of Black scholars?

If white poeple are looking for a starting point to begin “racial reconciliation,” then reading the works of Black scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, J.A. Rogers, Chancellor Williams, and Lerone Bennett Jr. would be a good place to begin. Reading them would begin to change the mythical American narrative.

In his seminal book, Carter G. Woodson wrote about The Miseducation of the Negro. Granted, many “Negroes” have been and continue to be miseducated, because they have been “educated” by white “educators” or Eurocentric Black “educators.” Nonetheless, one could make a greater argument that generally speaking white Americans are even more “miseducated” than Black folks.

A toast to inclusive as well as accurate history!

Happy Black History Month!

Read my award-winning epic poem, based on Black History.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A Time magazine article, “‘Hate Never Disappears. It Just Takes a Break for a While.’ Why the U.S. Capitol Attack Makes Holocaust Remembrance Day More Important Than Ever,” reveals why we should be deeply concerned about the January 6th Trump-inspired Insurrection.

As I have written elesewhere, one of the most disturbing of so many disturbing images during the January 6th Insurrection was the transformation of the Insurrectionist mob into a lynch mob, chanting, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” The second most disturbing scene was one of the Capitol Hill Insurrectionists wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” tee shirt. Really?

“Camp Auschwitz” was a concentration camp that systematically contributed to murdering millions of innocent people, mostly Jewish, for the “crime” of being Jewish, lest we forget.

What may be just as disturbing, if not more so, were the Jewish people who participated in the January 6th Insurrection. I wonder if one Jewish person saw his or her fellow insurrectionist wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” tee shirt. I have almost always expressed my adminration for the Jewish Nazi Hunters. They had a fundamental understanding that you don’t let evil walk away from its crimes. Ever! No matter how much time has passed. Never!

As we once again begin to hear the “Never Trumpers” language seep into the conversation in order to give Trump a pass at his second impeachment trial, I think of the words of Nobel laureate, Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor, Elie Wiesel: “Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.” The U.S. Senate Republican Caucus, prepping and rationalizing to give Trump a pass on procedural grounds in his second impeachment trial, is displaying this evil indifference.

Not only should all the insurrectionists be brought to justice, but also Trump. If the Senate fails to acquit him at his second impeachment trial, then the Office of the Attorney General should file criminal charges against him.

When people become U.S. citizens, they take an oath to defend the Constitution and the country, against enemies, domestic and foreign. We saw domestic terrorists storm the Capitol on January 6th, incited by Trump. We seemingly escaped the worst case scenario. Still, there is much work to do.

As today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us mark on our calendars January 6th as Insurrection Day.

Posted in crime, Justice Chronicles, Lest We Forget, Murder, Patriotism, Politics, race, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment