Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clearly Innocent: Wrongfully Tasered

By Eddie Griffin (BASG)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

After watching the news footage on the tasering of Jonathan Pierce by the Arlington Police Department over the weekend, it is clear to me that this was an innocent man, guilty of nothing but trying to get out of the way of danger while police officers pursued a suspect after a high-speed chase and crash.

So, how did one police officer mistake this black Navy veteran with a young white male suspect? According to news reports, the two men were both wearing basketball jerseys, but of different teams. An eyewitness describes seeing a car race onto the parking lot, slam into a minivan, and the driver exiting and taking off on foot.

Pierce, who had been using an ATM machine inside a club at the time, exited just as people were screaming and scrabbling for cover. “So my natural reaction,” he said, was to go back inside “for safety”. It all happened so fast, he says, that the next thing he knew he heard “a loud pop” and felt a “sharp pain in my side”, and an officer on top of him.

“I didn't even see it coming,” he said. “I'm still feeling shaky about the whole situation. It all happened so fast.”

Jonathan Pierce has a reason to feel shaky after being electrocuted with 50,000 volts of electricity. He could have been the 535th taser related death in North America. Instead, that dubious honor went to Jerry Perea, age 38, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was tasered and died on March 21, 2011.

Michael Jacobs, Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas, as many may recall, died April 18, 2009. He was victim number 424.

It was only a matter of time before Arlington police would try out their new toys, despite the many warnings. But the police chief was so determined, with Super Bowl XLV coming to the city, 300 new tasers was like a late Christmas present. Discretion is not built into the weapon, and lack of use only itch the trigger finger.

Like many taser victims before him, Jonathan Pierce has retained a lawyer and plans to sue. In times past, such law suits were like throwing stones at the Titan. But as of late, almost every taser victim is winning, because TASER International, the maker of the device, does not inform its client police department that tasers are lethal.

Taser International settles with Butler for ~$3M

Michael Patrick Jacobs Jr., Fort Worth TX, $2.0M

Stanley Harlan, Moberly MO, $2.4M

Taser $6.2M initial judgment for Failure to Warn

What is little known, to victim or lawyer, is the long term effect of taser electrocutions.

We have observed, over time, the same “shaky feelings” that Jonathan Pierce is experiencing now are the same “twitches” that taser survivors still experience, and maybe for the rest of their live.

How then can the true damage be calculated?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Comeback Kid Falls Again

By Eddie Griffin

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nate Bailey was arrested, along with two other men, for attempting to rob an armored truck in broad daylight on the streets of Washington, D.C. According to news report, Bailey was captured with an AK-47 in the getaway car, a green Ford Taurus SE Station Wagon registered in his name.

Nate Bailey-el was 57 years old, too old to pull a caper like this, especially considering the fact that he had been released from prison less than two years prior after serving 22 years. According to a mutual friend Glenn Simmons, Nate barely knew how to drive, let alone drive a getaway car.

We knew that getting back into society was not going to be easy for him. People kept reminding Bailey that this is 2011. But somehow, he never bridged the time gap nor healed from the mental scares of his prior incarceration.

He was only a 20-year old youth when he first went into federal prison in 1974, sentenced to six years under the Youth Corrections Act. Along the way, he picked up more time in prison, and the “zip 6” turned into 11 years. In an email to me, dated May 12, 2010, he chronicles his journey through the federal prison system, from Petersburg, to El Reno, to Lompoc, to Lewisburg, to Terri Haute, to Marion, to Leavenworth, and finally back to Marion’s Super-max 6 Control Unit. This was where he witnessed two white supremacist inmates kill Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, the leader of the Moors.

Bailey was released on December 15, 1985, after which he describes his reentry back into society like this: “With mental scares created by the behavior modification program at Marion, I did not make it in society for more than 6 months. Longing to get back to the war and my Brothers, I was sentenced by D.C. with a 15-Life sentence on May, 1987 and did not secure my release until September, 2009, 22 years later.”

Now, after only 17-months of freedom, Nate Bailey-el may be on his way back to prison for the rest of his life. His friend and mentor, Glenn, feels that he could have done more to help Nate. I feel even worse, because I was supposed to be his guide and help him recover from the mental scares that he suffered in the Control Unit. The behavior modification program at Marion, which he describes above, was the subject of “Breaking Men’s Minds” written by me in 1977.

Nate remembered my work as a Marion Brother. In his email, he wrote:

It is truly an Honor to be among the ranks of the forgotten few who really earned the degree of MARION BROTHER...For the only few who endured actually know the true meaning of the "SOUTHERN TIP". Those who been and made it out never healed or never was the same, the behavior program laid down there touched the core of the human factor in a man... Brother, the system was a battlefield at which you can attest, we all was in the mist of the fight on a national level. I have a host of rich authentic information which lead up to the Brother’s (Cadillac) passing because I was there. The Brother (Glenn) told me you will be contacting me and I welcome it because I am still finding it hard for those who never been there… (who) fail to understand in our attempt to communicate what it was like for the designed system to suck the LIFE out of a man when he was still breathing...Yes, I do remember you...A MARION BROTHER


A movie production company contacted me in 2008 about doing a documentary on the Aryan Brotherhood, based upon two AB white supremacists, Thomas Silverstein and Clay Fountain, stabbing Raymond “Cadillac” Smith-el to death inside Marion’s notorious Control Unit in 1982. But there were no eyewitnesses for the producer to interview. All were either dead or still in prison. It was not until the release of Nate Bailey in September 2009 that a first hand account could be given. But by then, M2 Pictures had made its documentary, which aired on the Discovery Channel in November 2009. The assassination of Cadillac did not make the cut.

So, it was a project that Nate Bailey and Glenn Simmons were going to complete: The story about Cadillac, one of the toughest prison gladiators that I ever encountered. His death set off the one of bloodiest prison race wars recorded in FBI history. His legacy has been told over and over again.

His assassin, Thomas Silverstein, has been dubbed as the “most dangerous man in prison” by the BBC. Silverstein has been convicted of killing three inmates and a prison guard, though one of the inmate killings has since been overturned. In his own defense of killing Cadillac, Silverstein cites passages of “Breaking Men’s Minds”, claiming that prison officials had pitted him, man against man, against Cadillac, that prison officials wanted them to kill each other.

Nate Bailey is one of the few survivors who saw it. He was supposedly in the process of writing a book about it. But now, here I am, writing about him, in my untold memoirs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Response to J.R. Labbe Editorial on Police Shooting

Jill Labbe would have some of her readers believe that we did something wrong in attending a community forum designed to “discuss police issues and policies that affect east Fort Worth”. We were invited by the FWPD itself. And, Chief Jeffrey Halstead promised to “field questions from the community”.

Labbe characterized the meeting as a “black vs. white grievance” session, because it was called in the aftermath of a white police officer shooting and killing of a black subject. But those who attended went to great lengths to play down the race issue and show that it was a community relations issue with the police department. Only Labbe could contrive this meeting as a black versus white hostility issue- no doubt, a product of her own subjective assumptions and fertile imagination. Nevertheless, she, in turn, has fueled a slew race tinted letters-to-the-editor condemning the black community for its outpouring.

Had she attended the forum, she would have seen speakers of all races: black, brown, and white. Had she attended, she would have heard what she claims was missing from the news clips, that someone did indeed mention that the subject Charal Thomas put himself and his children in danger. She would have heard that suggestion quickly dismissed because “no one knew, for a fact, what happened”. Is this not why there is investigation? And even she acknowledges that the investigation is ongoing. So how then did she reach a conclusive judgment that Charal Thomas endangered anyone, except that she bought into a one-sided inconclusive police report?

Herein is the problem. Labbe writes: “For many whites, Thomas represents generations of black men whose criminal behavior is excused by their community as an acceptable byproduct of that historic abuse.”

What if I we were as callous as to suggest that Labbe’s “many whites” were bias, pious, and hasty to judgment? The Star-Telegram’s depiction of “RaRa” Thomas, along with its selectly published letters to the editor, has hurt the bereaved family as much as the shooting.

Where is the “criminal behavior” of which Labbe speaks? How does a traffic violation get escalated to criminal behavior? It is ASSUMED that he was engaged in drug trafficking. But no drugs were found. It is ASSUMED that he was doing something wrong and that put his children and his passenger in danger. On top of this, based on these assumptions, Labbe places blame on the community “that willingly paints Thomas as a victim” and boast of the fact that he was not “black man beat down by ‘the man’ unjustly.”

No, Thomas was not beaten down by “The Man”. (Where did Labbe get this outdated 1960s movie idiom of so-called black slang?) No, Thomas was not beaten down by “The Man”. He was shot twelve times by a Fort Worth police office, and it made no difference if he was man or woman, black or white.

Yes, of course, RaRa’s family and friends are grief stricken, upset, and outraged. Even if it were an accident or committed by a civilian, they would still be angry. Isn’t that only human? Even during bible times, they provided cities of refuge from the “avengers of blood”, whenever death of a person was at the hands of another. Family and friends of the decease will be upset and angry. And had this happened at the hands of a civilian, we might be talking about gang-style retaliatory violence, instead of this conjured up black-white hostility issue.

Labbe is simply wrong in judging the right to anger of bereaved family.

In adding salt to insult, she further writes: “For many blacks, Romer (the shooting officer) is the physical embodiment of centuries of mistreatment of African-Americans in this country at the hands of powerful whites.”

Where did she get this perception of “powerful whites”? Certainly, she could not have gotten it from black people. Had Officer J. Romer been hurt or killed in this ordeal, some of the same people who attended the forum would have shown their condolences to his bereaved family. No civilized and rational person would have cheered, as Labbe’s white readers cheer the death of as this “convicted criminal”.

Without exception, everyone who spoke at the forum expressed their condolences to the family of the deceased. And, if there were any victims, it was Thomas’ children. When Labbe spoke of the angry 4-year old she once saw during her ride-along with police in another city, she might understand why one of Charal Thomas’ children slapped the officer who shot and killed her father.

If anything is true in Labbe’s article, it is the fact that this type of anger is generational, and it is not because of skin color.

The purpose of the community forum was two-fold: (1) For the family and friends of Thomas needed to vent their anger and frustration, especially in how the children were treated during and after the ordeal; and (2) For the community to raise questions about police policies, practices, and procedures.

People have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances. Is there a grievance here? Is the family not aggrieved at the loss of their loved one? Is it not the responsibility of ministers to minister to their pain?

Lest we forget: Grievance derives from grief, and the root of Redress is dress, as in dressing a wound or addressing the cause of the injury. Does not the community have these right, without being condemned for giving aid and comfort to the family of the deceased, without Labbe and her likes accusing us of justifying an accused criminal?

Which is more wrong: Passing judgment upon a deceased who is only guilty of nothing other than being a suspect, or calling a public servant into question about the circumstances surrounding a citizen’s death?

Labbe rather passes judgment in her article and incites her white readers to do the same, casting the tragedy as a black-white issue. To stir the caldron, she quotes a man who tells the chief of police, “I don’t like you.” But she does not quote his saying that this was “not personal”. Neither does she know his change-of-heart sentiments afterwards.

Many citizens who attended the forum- black, brown, and white- came away feeling that the community had taken a positive step toward healing. Some of us are dealing with the anger issues of family and friends, with hopes that time will heal. Maybe community relations will improve with a police review board.

Whatever the case, this so-called “festering and unresolved black vs. white grievance” and this figment of an officer being “the physical embodiment of centuries of mistreatment of African-Americans in this country at the hands of powerful whites” is a product of Jill Labbe and Labbe’s alone, just as she claims that Charal Thomas alone was the cause of the escalation that ended in his death.

It is always convenient to blame the dead, just as it is convenient to blame the black community and its criminal element for the lack of respect from the police department.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Where Do We Go After the Police Shooting of Charal Thomas?

By Eddie Griffin

Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19)

The above quote is prudent advice for all circumstances and situations, especially a situation like the shooting death of Charal T. Thomas at the hands of FWPD officer J. Romer. Not only is the incident tragic, it is also complicated: Tragic because a father was shot to death in front of his three children; complicated because the circumstances suggest that the officer fired in self-defense.

Like most people, I have waited for the air to clear and to hear all accounts. But recent Star-Telegram editorials and letters-to-the-editor urge me to speak. According to newspaper accounts, Thomas was under surveillance, sitting in his SUV, with his children in the car. He was under suspicion of possible drug activities, which some readers imply as guilt by past conviction, though no drugs were discovered in the vehicle upon later investigation.

Instead, Thomas had outstanding traffic warrants. And, it was to this end, that Officer Romer approached the vehicle to place the subject under arrest. They say he resisted, that he locked his door, let up his window, and took off, with the officer’s arm trapped in the window. The officer retrieved his weapon and fired 12 shots into the man’s body, thereby killing him.

The subject was a young one-legged black man, the officer white.

Why? That is the question everybody is asking. Some conclude that it was another typical shooting of a black suspect by a white officer. Some say it was excessive force, that it was not necessary to pump 12 bullets into the man’s body. Some say the officer was just defending his own life; otherwise, he would have been the victim.

How do you deal with such a tragedy under such complicated circumstances?

Thomas’ children, ages 7 to 11, were in the back seat of the car. They witnessed the shooting. No matter what later investigations will reveal, they will forever be traumatized by the incident. The family is upset, angry, and aggrieved. No one can measure their pain. The Stop Six community is incensed at yet another incident of a police officer killing one of their own.

Today’s letters-to-the-editor is as oblivious to the community’s indignation as west is to east. The writers probably have never been under surveillance. Being black and driving a late model SUV in an impoverished neighborhood is probable cause for suspicion of drug activity, or so it seems in the minds of people. But the problem is not as simple as “suspicion and black”. Everyone, even the black community, can appreciate public safety. The problem is: Equal Protection and Equal Respect.

After all, it was the black community itself that begged for more police protection in their community, against gangs, drug trafficking, and violence. But when officers get bored, they start making traffic stops for little stuff like: “Failure to make a turn signal”, “A cracked taillight”, “an illegal shift in a turning lane”, etc., etc. And, these ignoble offenses are imposed upon the poorest people, who are already the least that can afford to pay the fines. Instead of feeling protected, some people feel under siege.

This feeling of anxiety, anger, and hostility passes from one generation to another, almost without notice.

Police Chief Jeff Halstead is aware and sensitive to these feelings. This is why he has met with leaders and ministers of the community on a number of occasions. But talk is cheap when nothing is done to ameliorate the underlying problem of alienation between the police department and the black community.

There is a consequence for shootings like these. Children grow up with animosity toward police, similar to the feelings that Palestinian children grow up with at Israeli occupational forces. The anger and outrage that we are witnessing today in the Stop Six community did not start in 2011 with one isolated incident. It goes way back to the time that I describe as “Authority Without Consent”, that is to say, having the power to police does not mean that people consent to being policed, especially in light of a history of offical oppression, abuse, and corruption. There were times of “shakedown cops”, who were complicit with bootleggers and pimps and others who engaged in criminal activity, so long as they were paid off ("under the table"). To “snitch” on them would be equivalent to suicide, which is why black people historically do not cooperate with police.

Fort Worth is not Mississippi, but people remember the southern sheriff with his absolute power over black people. This is not New York, but people remember those who had been arrested only to disappear and have their bodies wash up on the Trinity River bottom. The hostilities, apprehension, and anxiety of African-Americans against the police department is a product of social conditioning in the line and legacy of the infamous Joe D. Fee and Bush.

Surely, there is nothing we can do to bring the dead back to life. We can only comfort the family of Charal Thomas, nurture and minister to his children as they try to grow up, and remove the shooting officer (J. Romer) from the patrol beat, where his continued presence would only be a hostile reminder of this tragic incident.

Thawing community relations is not simply a matter of meeting with ministers whenever something goes wrong, but a commitment and involvement by the FWPD in helping to nurture our children and heal our people. This would mean involvement at the grassroots level, in the schools, churches, community centers, not just coming in and out with packaged PD PR programs; but to educate, mentor, train, and reward the next generation of young leaders who must take the responsibility in building a strong, viable, and law-abiding community.