Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Friday, June 1, 2007

A Case of Crime: Who against Whom?

A comparison between the six Jena African-American male youth and a Fort Worth boy

Another early morning phone call, another crying grandmother, and young black man went to jail last night. The grandmother was in a murderous rage as she described how “they took my baby to jail… and he’s never been to jail in his life… he’s never ever been in trouble with the law”. But a Macy's security guard swore that the young man was trying to steal a pair of shorts.

The recent high school graduate was on lunch break when he decided to look at buying a pair of swimming trunks. He worked inside the Hulen Mall down the hall from Macy’s Department Store. He had $500 in his pocket, having just gotten paid. A security guard claimed that he was attempting to steal the item, so they detained him until the FWPD arrived.

He was taken to the downtown jail and interrogated. They promised him that if he gave a statement of confession, they would not lock him up- a story that sounds all too familiar. And, when he signed the paper, they locked him up anyway. It would $100 to walk out the door with a Class D Misdemeanor, but not until the next morning.

Don’t worry, Son… a Class D Misdemeanor is nothing… it won’t cause you to lose your job, which is what will happen if we keep you locked up… and no, you cannot call anyone on the jail phone because phone privileges start at a certain time in the morning… not even a lawyer. This is Texas.

What I cannot understand is “Attempted Theft”. How does a person attempt to steal something and never go outside of the store with the merchandise? Was it because he was black, and black people look suspicious in the eyes of the security guard? This was why the grandmother sounded so hysterical when she called me at 7:30 am.

She cried and sobbed and shouted at me. What she wanted I could not deliver. She wanted someone to undo her grandson being locked up all night with other harden criminals. She wanted a Do-Over. She wanted an unsigned confession, because he was coerced by fear. It took everything I knew to calm her down.

GOOD MORNING to you too, World- This is the way I started today. As I prepared for another strategy session, on another side of town, on a whole different set of issues, I had to keep running, so I gave the grandmother a list of things to do- I’d get back with her later. ANOTHER BLACK BOY on the bubble of trouble. Why is it the story of our lives?

JENA, Louisiana -- Tears streamed down Melissa Bell's face Monday as the judge ruled in favor of LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters' motion to continue her son's trial more than a month. (“Racial demons rear heads”, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2007)

Racial tensions in the small lumbering town of 3,000 residents erupted when three hangman’s nooses were dangled from the school’s courtyard, after African-American students had requested to sit under the tree.

Howard Witt, the Chicago Tribune reporter who unveiled the story of the little Paris, Texas girl named Shaquanda Cotton who was sent to prison for up to seven years of her life for pushing a teacher’s aid, has discovered yet another small southern town teeming with racism and charges of disparity in justice.

According to the story, the white students guilty of the rope incident were suspended for three days. Black parents, who felt that the nooses signified a greater danger and threat, protested the ruling. It should have been treated as a racially motivated hate crime, in light of these subsequent events and chain reactions:

First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party. A few days later, another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store.

Finally, on Dec. 4, a group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor. The victim—allegedly targeted because he was a friend of the students who hung the nooses and had been taunting blacks—was not seriously injured and spent only a few hours in the hospital.

But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.

What I see is the Charge of Crime. What is “attempted second-degree murder”? In Texas, they like to stick the prefix “aggravated” upon everything blacks are charged with.

I would assume that “second-degree murder” is a lesser offense than “first-degree murder”, but note that the maximum for “attempted second-degree murder” can run up to 100 years (a nice round number, similar to Texas infamous sentence of “Life and One Dark Day”).

But no- it was not “second-degree murder” or manslaughter- but “attempted” manslaughter, “attempted second-degree”. (How can we tell the difference between first and second when neither actually physically occurred?) In both cases, there is no intent to cause death (if there were intent, it would be first-degree). So, by connotation: Attempted Second-Degree Murder an attempt to cause an “unintended” death. It’s an oxymoron… a self-contradiction.

The Fort Worth African-American youth has already received punishment for “attempted theft” that never occurred as an actual theft. But with $500 in his pocket, why did they make him sweat it out until morning? Why would they assume culpability when he had proof of his ability to make the purchase?

I can almost hear grandmother Rosa scream when she first got the news. Knowing her as I do, it must have been as heartbreaking as the news of the death of a close love one.


  1. 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!

    The police were wrong on so many levels: arresting a minor without notifying his parents, locked up overnight without being given the opportunity to make a phone call, coertion of a signed confession by a minor without any legal representation, etc.

    This story breaks my heart and I feel bad for the young man. I hope his grandmother is able to find a lawyer with thoughts of bringing a civil suit against this police department.

  2. If the facts pan out, someone else will be wearing the security guard's badge. There must be an exact cost for a critical mistake that can destroy a young man's life. Imagine the horror if the young man was sexually violated while incarcerated. These are the types of games they play in Texas (especially TYC) with young black juveniles.

  3. Plez is absolutely correct. 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 then not to hold court in the street, because their lives are too precious to waste as street martyrs. This is probably the one instance where I am completely in agreement with the non-violent social change movement. There is no winning a violent confrontation with the police in the streets. Even if you get the best of one of them, the rest will hunt you down and shoot you like a dog, and right and wrong have absolutely nothing to do with it. We have to teach our young boys that the police never ever ever have their best interest at heart and that it is correct to refuse to cooperate with them. We have to teach them that their rights are going to be violated, but that doesn't mean they have to go along with it. Never give any statements, never sign anything; be polite and repeatedly request an attorney or a parent.

    I thought we had this covered with my son, 18, but when I quizzed him about this scenario, I could tell that we had missed a thing or two. My child still thought that he had rights that the police would respect. I took this opportunity to show him how wrong he was. My sincere appreciation to Eddie Griffin for providing a teaching experience for my child.

    This type of police behavior is not an aberration. It is the norm across America. Suing the security guard won't change anything about how the law enforcement apparatus operates. They will use any tactics they can think of legal or illegal, moral or immoral, to rack up arrest statistics. I won't go so far as to say any individual officer does it because of specific racial animus towards Blacks, but I will say that the system is set up to reward officers for making arrests, and Black folks are the easiest to arrest and convict because we are systemically denied equal access to justice. Some prosecutor still has to vet this case and move it through the court system, some judge still has to sign off on the conviction. It's not just the police, it is the entire system that is set up to ram poor defendants through the system.

    Eddie I would suggest that you apply pressure on the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor's are elected officials, whose job security can be threatened much more so than any police officer. We already know that the cops won't police themselves. But bad publicity scares any politician, and these days railroading a young black man is not the kind of press anybody would want. They don't mind the railroading part, it's just the bad press they hate. Get to the prosecutor's office and get his information out in an Afrosphere Alert so we can all bombard his office with emails and phone calls. Let them know that this is not going to happen in the silence of back room deals that coerce young Black boys with threats of worse things if they don't agree to accept a criminal record. Let them know that it's not just you they will be dealing with, and we will have your back.

    Keep us posted and keep fighting the good fight my brother.

  4. Re the Jena case. I know this is going to sound harsh, but why are Black folks so keen to be where they are obviously not wanted? Why would anyone remain in that environment? I know people should have a right to live where they want to live, and people tend to get attached to familiar places, but I can't see myself staying around such obvious racial animosity, because I know that when it boils to the surface the minority Black community is going to be on the losing end of the conflict. White folks don't try that kind of shit where they don't outnumber us at least 20 to 1.

    The utter ridiculousness of an attempted 2nd degree murder is simply more evidence that this system cannot be worked with.

  5. Thank you for such excellent responses and support. This case is still in process. Plez and Exodus, I will apprise you via email of some new developments that might offer an insider perspective on problem-solving methodologies. Exodus, I wish to go more in depth with your response, because you hit the nail on the head about how black boys are "slam dunked". I also wish for you to connect with our civil rights lawyers and experts, who work in the trenches every day, on these kinds of issues and problems. Here, in Fort Worth, Texas, our police force is one of the best and most humane. It's the rest of the Criminal Justice System that we have problems with.