Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Black Boy Accused

In “A Case of Crime: Who against Whom?” Eddie Griffin wrote about an 18-year old black boy arrested for shoplifting. Here was a good kid, family members say, never been in trouble with the law, a recent high school graduate who had been accepted to TCU University. He was an assistant store manager, entrusted with large sums of money. So, why would he steal a pair of shorts with $500 in his pocket? The grandmother mentioned in the story (a great-great aunt who had raised both mother and son), charged the department store security guard with racial profiling.

Readers of the story responded with concern and outrage from around the country. One local reader recalled how she had been followed around a department store. She also felt that she was being watched because she was African-American- likewise, my own 82-year mother.

Plez, of plezWorld, provided this formula for African-Americans who find themselves accused:

Rule #1 for Black People when being questioned by the police: SAY NOTHING!
Rule #2 for Black People when asked by the police to sign a confession: SIGN NOTHING!

But the most elaborate and eloquent of all was the response from Exodus Mentality who writes: If you really want to help Black boys it's not enough to teach them not to commit crimes. Committing a crime is not necessary for a Black man to get in trouble with the law. We need to have classes with young Black boys and teenagers to instruct them on how to handle their inevitable contact with the gestapo police forces that occupy our communities. We have got to teach them not to hold court in the street, because their lives are too precious to waste as street martyrs. (I have often been an advocate of teaching black kids self-defensive living)

Then there came the surprise response from Sergeant Mark Thorne of the Fort Worth Police Department urging me to call him in “reference” to this article. He added, “Would love to help on this”. It was signed with his “blessings”. More importantly, he left a hyperlink to The Clergy and Police Alliance Program, a coalition of pastors who work in partnership with the police department to serve the citizens of Fort Worth.

Somewhere in our phone conversation, we found ourselves on the same page, trying to save a black boy in trouble. This was not my first time working with FWPD trying to help our children. In the past, they have gone into jail cells to locate some of “my kids”. And, on many occasions, they have provided vital information that enabled me to help their parents with regards to charges, bond, etc. Therefore, the intervention of Sgt. Thorne should not have come as a surprise.

The entire Fort Worth Police Department evolves around the philosophy of it chief, Ralph Mendoza- a man I have come to greatly admire and respect for his integrity and caring for our community. Despite my being an ex-Black Panther bank robber, he has never failed me when it comes to our mutual concern for the community and our kids. Strange as it seems, over the years, cop and robber have shed many tears over each other’s loss.

For three straight days of phone tag and off-and-on conversations with family and Sgt. Thorne, I reached one certain conclusion: The Fort Worth PD did its job, according to the books, in a professional manner, and went the extra mile to see that the accused young man was not wronged by the department. With the Chief, every officer must go by the books, because he is very intolerant of officers crossing the line or abusing the power of their badge. And, it is out of this respect for him and his leadership that I give attentive ear to his officers.

Sgt. Thorne had a different story to tell about the shoplifting incident and an education for me about how the FWPD operate on these kinds of cases. They do not always accept the complaint of a shop owner, because they, too, have been duped by fallacious accusations. They ascertain that there is “probably cause” before they lock anyone up. Thus, in the instance of the young black man above, there was enough probable cause for the arrest, besides the signed confession.

So now, I am faced with two stories- the boy and his family, and the store owner and its security guard. The store is prepared to prosecute to the full extent of the law, unless a compromise is worked out somewhere. The family continually buys the boy’s side of the story, that he was wrongly apprehended and coerced into a confession. If the loggerhead persists, the entire matter will be settled in court.

In the meantime, Sgt. Thorne, a religious man, prayed for the youth, that he overcome this incident and, if he’s guilty, to put this mistake behind him and move ahead with his life, go on to college. After all, the sergeant says, “Everybody makes mistakes.” He also prayed for me and my advocacy to save these children at-risk.

On this case, I stretched my hope that the kid was innocent, when, in fact, I will not truly know until it is finally adjudicated. But I will not wait until then to exonerate the men in blue. As I explained to Sgt. Thorne, it is my job to “trouble the waters” and ask the right questions. Whatever the answer is, I can live with. But always, it brings me back to Square One: The Plight of the Black Boy and How to Save Him in this “Land of Egypt”- hence, the Baby Moses Project.


  1. Blacks are accused all over the country of shop-lifting while many whites shop-lift with impunity.

  2. I often have to remind people that in spite of the fact that i am one of the harshest critics I know when it comes to law enforcement, I also know from personal experience that it is a demanding and often thankless job. I don't ever condemn any individual officer without the same beyond reasonable doubt evidence that I require to convict any other accused person. It's probably hard to see that through some of my rhetoric.

    When the police respond as they have in this case, with alacrity and transparency, and are shown to have conducted themselves in a manner consistent with policies and procedures that are both race/class neutral on their face and in practice then they deserve to be commended and held up as an example of what we must expect and demand from those who chose to protect and serve.

    Stay vigilant. Just because the police may be clear on this one doesn't mean we can expect justice to necessarily prevail through the rest of the system.