Friday, December 30, 2011

Marry Durham is 2011 Top Story

Over the next few days you will read and see broadcast reports of the top news stories of 2011. It’s an annual ritual that bestows a top ten list in a way common to one of those made for television award shows. It proves our fascination with the best of the best.

I have wrestled over putting my own list up. It just seems wrong to play God with the news by minimizing it to a best of list. How does one come up with the list in the first place? Is it the most read or talked about? Or, is it the most horrific? Should we look for examples of people who screwed things up so badly that it left us saying “Come on man!”

After pulling the leaves from a daisy, “yes I should, no I shouldn’t…” I have decided to reveal my top story of 2011. I’m doing so because, more than likely, it won’t appear on any of the other list. No one was killed in my story. No one lost their job for exposing their rear end. No one embezzled money from taxpayers or had a baby by some cheap stank while his wife was home fighting for her life. Nope. Not going there today.

My top story took place on March 9th in a parking lot on Rigsbee Avenue. Thousands of folks showed up. Some wore wedding dressing. A dude came on stilts. It was a wedding service. Citizens of Durham married the city we all love so much.

It’s my story of the year because of what it represented. It, more than any other event last year, brought us together to celebrate living in this amazing place. It came after years of hostility among members of the Board of Education and racial clashes between members of both the city council and Board of County Commissioners. It followed the embarrassment of being skull drug by the national press for that Duke Lacrosse situation.

It followed being called the state black sheep by journalist from across the state. We stood together, all types of people, and did a serious whopping on that old reputation as a city that simply refuses to get along. It’s the top story of the year because citizens came together to say Hell to tha naw to all that Durham bashing.

That day shifted the culture involving the way we think about ourselves as a community. It was our way of throwing a rock at the bullies from the other side of the track. We ain’t taking it no more! That’s right. Take you bad talk and inferiority complex and go back to that dungeon you call a home. We love it over here.

The Marry Durham celebration allowed us a chance to say what we all had been thinking. They say we can’t get along due to racial tension. We say we love our diversity. We love our local shops and take care of this world we love so much. We vow to do better at celebrating the arts. We hold our leaderships accountable. We’re not a community that throws stone at people for being different. We throw them at people who throw the stones. Back off my little brother and sister you jerk.

That day was like no other. It helps that I performed the ceremony and was able to stick a ring in Frank Stasio’s nose. Yeah, it gave me goose bumps gazing out in the crowd to view all those smiling faces. It also helps that I was able to work with a group of amazing people to pull it off. We worked through our differences. Shucks, there were times when I wanted to tell them to kiss my backside.

That’s what family does you know. We yell at each other. We walk away sometimes to deal with the anger. Then we come back to say, “you know I love ya baby.”

That’s the city I love. In good times and bad. In sunny days and snow storms. This is the city I love so much.

And that’s why Marry Durham is the top story of 2011.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Celebrating Chuck Davis

Chuck Davis is an icon. His reputation extends beyond the boundaries of North Carolina. He is known internationally for his contribution in educating the world about African dance and culture.

Who in Durham hasn’t seen the African American Dance Ensemble? They’re everywhere performing that heart throbbing movement of body blended with the stimulating beat of those drums. For decades now, students within the Durham Public School system have learned to embrace and celebrate the culture of those connected to the African Diaspora.

Davis, along with his dancers, has taught us to smile when we dance. His work has helped us transcend the discomfort related to the cruelty of slavery. There is more to the story then people robbed of their culture and forced to endure the burden of enslavement. Although the past is laced with memories of whippings, lynchings and rapes – from all of that emerged the gift of dance.

Many have been mesmerized by the towering figure packed with charisma that forces you to love and smile. Davis has taken us back to empathize with the intent of our ancestors dance. Each movement awakens the dimming spark needy of reason to skip again. Beyond the dread fostered by an attack of things hoped for, beyond thoughts that bind love and make us evil due to the lie that we are made different – we can all dance together.

For a brief period, I served as the Executive Director of the African American Dance Ensemble. I did so as a volunteer. I took hold of the task due to the anger that was robbing me of the serenity I pray for everyday. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I was tired of not doing what I could to change things.

What needed to be changed was the lack of stability. I was left devastated and embarrassed by the lack of support that would secure the organization beyond the charisma of its founder. I wanted more for the African American Dance Ensemble. It miffed me whenever I thought of why a community like Durham has been unable to find a way to formulate a strategy to do just that.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I can’t help but wonder about a lack of village love in Durham. All that talk about it takes a whole village leaves me thinking that none of us live in the same village or have grown so weary by our own quest for comfort that we care less about passing on the culture that makes us dance.

As always, Chuck and the gang will lead us in the celebration of Kwanzaa on Sunday. He will call the village to gather at the Durham Armory at 220 Foster St as we reflect on the meaning of Imani – faith. It’s fitting that it begins on the day many of us will go to church to contemplate the lessons learned over the previous year. Someone will sing “We’ve come this far by faith…” Things at the Armory start at noon, but we will be there most of the day.

I will stand before the crowd clad in my agbada gown. I will pour libations along with leaders of other faith traditions. I will challenge those present to take hold of the messages of Kwanzaa – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith – and abide in them beyond the day.

Hopefully, prayerfully, it will be enough to inspire a community to support Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble. It’s the best way to be a community that echoes the message of Kwanzaa. Our failure to do just that could have grave implications regarding our ability to dance in the future.

Beat the djembe drum. I have reason to dance. Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud. There’s no hatred in my spirit because I know where my people come from.

Usiache mbachao kwa msala upitao (Don’t abandon your old rug for a passing mat)

Contributions to the African American Dance Ensemble can be mailed to: 120 Morris Street, Durham, NC. 27701

Monday, December 26, 2011

The University of Missouri vs. UNC: My Past Duels My Present Life

Photo from the Columbia Daily Tribune

It’s official. I’m homesick. It’s more than the usual angst that comes during the holiday season. Yes, I miss my mom and pops, my sister, niece and nephew and members of the Kenney, Warrick, Bush and Crum clan in Columbia, Missouri. Yes, I miss Doodle Bug, Mert, Ed, Darren, Gerrod and Rodney. I miss life on the block that made us more than an old school posse – we were best friends and family. I miss playing ball in the park within walking distance from the block. I miss all of that.

Today, I miss what football meant back home. From those days when we played gang games with the boys over in Miles Manor to winning state High School championships, and watching our friends go off to make it big in the NFL. I miss watching Leo Lewis prove everyone wrong when he rose to fame at Mizzou and then made it big with the Minnesota Vikings. I remember watching Gary Anderson as he made that move with the San Diego Chargers that caught attention across the nation. I still smile when I think about playing ball with Geri Ellis who went on to be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

There were so many local stars. Many left Hickman High to play ball at Mizzou, the school I attended. I remember when Hickman and Rockbridge, a school just opened, won state championships in their divisions the same year. We dominated. We took pride in the game. We played it as much as we could.

I’m not saying things were better in the goods ole days. I just miss those days. There’s no place like home. Home sweet home – football, barbeque that isn’t chopped and the university known for those columns behind Jesse Hall – is the stuff that made me into the man I am today.

The old me and the new me will clash in less than two hours. The old home, Missouri, will go to battle with the new home – The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill- in the Independence Bowl. It helps that I’m protected by my affiliation with Duke University and the deep-seeded hatred between those Tar Heels and Blue Devils. I’ve found comfort in pretending that I care about the war on tobacco road. My heart is back home where football is king and the smell of the trees in autumn awakens thoughts of big dudes fighting to cross the goal line, rather than the sound of a swish with a three point shot.

Life down here in Dixie has been lonely at times. All that talk about color options – Carolina Blue versus the darker version – leaves me on the outside of the civil war. I crave the black & gold and the sound of the crowd coming from Fauort Field. I miss the chat of “M-I-Z-Z-O-U, T-I-G-E-R-S,” in anticipation of another six points.

I’m surrounded by all these blue folks as I crave black and gold. You see, Mizzou is more than a place that educated me in the field of journalism. It’s where this boy grew up. I love life in Durham, NC, but there is no place like home.

The University of Missouri versus The University of North Carolina. The past versus the present. The best of the past versus the best of, well some of the best of, what is in my life today. There is no winner in this game. It’s just another reminder that life is full of decisions, and you can’t have it both ways. In choosing between the past and the present you have to live with what it means to decide.

I wish I could live in the middle, but today I will root for the past. Tomorrow will be a new day, and I will go back to life in the present.

Until the game begins, I deal with life in the middle.

Friday, December 23, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is My Hope Back

All I want for Christmas is hope restored. You know the type of hope that had us all yelling “Yes We Can!”

As we approach my favorite time of year, the celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas followed by the singing of Auld Lang Syne, it may be fitting to ask what happened to all that hope. Did it get kicked off a cliff after the Republicans got a hold of it and choked it back into reality? Was it stomped on by corporate kingpins who refused to let go of their bonuses and incentive packages. Or, was it all just a dream that came after we drank the Kool Aid with the toast to celebrate a black dude in the White House?

Something happened to that hope, and, once we woke up to yell, “No you didn’t”, the gush that came with hope seemed like a fantasy coming from a page of “Chronicles of Naira”. C.S. Lewis couldn’t have written a better script for how the international community felt when a soul brother and his chocolate fine wife moved in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. There’s a bad feeling in the air now. It feels like hope has taken a vacation.

The demise of hope in the United States was enough to compel people to Occupy Wall Street and other communities around the country. It happened in Oakland, Baltimore and Atlanta, and in smaller pockets of pain like Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Some called it young folks smelling themselves. They minimized the Occupy movements to a generations angst related to not being able to get their way. They were called a bunch of spoiled brats unable to fit into the boxes society requires to make a real contribution.

A deeper reflection exposes a feeling of dread that has permeated the international community. Everywhere we looked, people protested. It started in London with a group of young people fed up with the way they have been treated. Things exploded in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Morocco. It would be effortless to play it down as divergence caused within a culture unlike our own. But, hold on before you throw those stones over there.

2011 was, to put it frankly, the year of deep frustration among common folks dealing with people in power. Be it a dictator like Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak or King Mohammed of Morocco, or U.S. lawmakers and business leaders, folks refused to take it anymore. They are fed up from the head up and did what it took to bring attention to their being pissed off.

On a personal note, I stopped singing that song in July. You know the one that was played on the radio after Obama won the election – “A Change Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke. The last few lines kept me inspired in my wait for hope.

There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then it happened! It felt like hope got shot coming out of a liquor house on Dowd Street. It felt like a gang of white dudes wearing whites sheets took hope and strung him up in a hangman’s noose dangling from an oak tree. Felt like hope got fired because it’s still true-the last one hired is the first one fired. I started crying, No We Can’t!

Now I listen as people chastise all of that hope. They say hope was a punk who didn’t have guts enough to tell the Republicans to kiss his ass and take a seat while he finished his business. I listen now as they beat hope down with all that talk about his lack of insight regarding life among those privileged hope haters who make a living on people’s pain. They treat hope like an afterthought while snubbing any attempt forcing them to step down from that seat of privilege long enough to give other folks a chance to see how it feels to look at opportunity.

I listen as they tell the hopeless to get in the back of the line and mind your own business. Those with the hope that comes with having more than enough, lash out at the hopeless with “pull yourself up from your bootstraps”. How do you do that when you don’t have any bootstraps?

It leaves one feeling like a lab rat running through a maze as a dude in a white coat takes notes about how foolish you look while trying to escape. Maybe, just maybe, people are fed up with that ‘I got mine you get your own’ approach to the handling of our lives. After decades of buying into the notion that my condition is the result of a lack of effort or a failure to take advantage of what is offered in the good ole U.S.A, that bubble has exploded in my face. The hope in that dream is fading away.

It hurts accepting someone with more money and power is pulling the strings. It goes against everything I have been taught to believe to articulate the passing of hope. What else should I think after witnessing the nation held hostage due to the overly rich refusing to lend a hand by paying more taxes? What should I say after hearing a crowd roar in approval when candidates say let a patient die if they lack medical insurance?

There was hope and a bunch of Yes We Can prior to the unraveling of the truth. There was hope in the sanctioning of the voices of poor and middle class people. There was hope a movement away from systems that minimize and divide. Heck, there was hope that this nation would finally live up to the mushy messages that we so proudly sing about and die to maintain.

The international community was depending on us to lead the way. If America can’t do it, who can? Yes they can, and yes we will. Fueled by the hope we promised, many went and fought for their own piece of the dream. All while our own government remained stuck in stupid and refused to give in to the promises of hope – healthcare for all who need it, a livable wage for all and a quality education for all our children. There was hope in protecting our fragile world. There was hope in the singing of a new song.

Maybe we can resurrect that hope. It will take more than an election. We need hope in the strength we share.

All I want for Christmas is my hope back. It was a long, long time coming, and now, a change done gone. Oh, yes it did.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Michael Peterson case: a low down dirty shame

Photograph from the website:

How should we feel about Michael Peterson getting a new trial? Sadness? Anger? Frustration? Regret? Or, is it shame that we should feel?

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that Peterson deserves a new trial after he heard new evidence revealing shenanigans on the part of a former agent at the SBI lab. The recent hearing to consider a retrial focused on the expert testimony of Duane Deaver during Peterson’s 2003 trial. Peterson, a Durham novelist, former columnist for the Herald-Sun and candidate for Mayor, was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2001.

Deaver’s handling of the evidence was so loathsome that Hudson asked David Rudolf, Peterson’s attorney, to research the possibility of appointing an investigator to consider other cases handled by Deaver. Peterson will be freed after posting a $300,000 secured bond while he waits for a new trial.

Tracey Cline, Durham’s District Attorney, says she’ll ask Roy Cooper, the State Attorney General, to prosecute the new trial. Hudson, who was the judge in the first trial, has indicated that he will ask the N.C Administrative Office of the Courts to appoint a new judge. Rudolf isn’t sure if he will lead the defense in the new trial. After a trial that lasted close to six months, drew national attention and a made for TV movie, one has to wonder what the heck was all of that about.

It all leaves me sad due to how a life was played with like a checker on a game board. Hudson’s ruling hit me like “whoops, sorry fellow. We’ll try it again.” I’m ashamed to have been a part of a community that rooted for the prosecution like fans for the home team. “Go get ‘em Jimmy!” Jim Hardin was the DA who prosecuted the case.

I’m ashamed that people held contempt for Peterson due to his columns and run for the Mayor seat. I wonder if the case against Peterson was prejudiced from the onset due to the public opinion based on his role in the community. Was the prosecution out to get him? Were members of that team incapable of seeing past their assumption of guilt? Did they look past the questionable evidence? Was the jury tainted by those columns in the Herald-Sun?

It all makes you question what makes a person guilty. Is it the evidence or is it the perceptions we hold regarding what smells a little funky. Think about those discussions at the coffee house or dinner table. “Hmm, I knew something was up wit him in tha first place,” simply insert the slang relevant to your kitchen table crowd.

I have to ask the question due to the obvious lesson learned from this trial. The prosecution of cases is a judgment call. We would like to think that the decision to move forward is grounded in a preponderance of evidence that proves guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. The thing that is tugging at my freaking spirit is the frequency of cases that go before a jury with evidence that belongs in the button of a dumpster.

I can’t help but wonder about the lack of a sleaze bag monitor to detect the mounds of bull crap before it ends up in court. Something stinks like cow manure whenever there’s a case certain to transform someone into an instant superstar. I’m not suggesting that the DA used the Peterson case to launch a career. Well, maybe I am. More than that submission, there’s something to be said about placing limits on how we view high profile cases.

None of that implies that Peterson is innocent. Given what happened on Wednesday, it will be more difficult for the next prosecutor to prove guilt. So much of the evidence will not be allowed in the next trial. What is more instructive related to this case is the impact of public perception in both moving the case forward and finding the dirty sucker guilty.

It hurts me to think that Peterson may be innocent. If that is true, he will find it difficult to reclaim what he had prior to being found guilty in 2003. He can’t get his home back. He has lost loads of money and a lucrative writing gig. He has lost a reputation as one of those community movers and shakers. More than any of that, he has lost his wife.

Duane Deaver lost his job for the way he mishandled this case. Sorry to say it, but that’s not enough. Maybe he should be put in prison to pay for the years Peterson lost. Sadly, there’s no way to make this right.

There’s one way to describe it all. It’s a damn shame. A low down dirty shame.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Business of Public Educaton

The plan to overhaul Durham Public School’s magnet program has been stalled by Superintendent Eric Becoats. The decision came after a groundswell of criticism at public meetings. The attack exposes a deeper issue that members of the school board may find hard to hear. People simply want more emphasis on improving all the schools.

“Don’t roll the dice, make all our schools nice,” was the message on balloons distributed at the meeting held on December 5. More than 70 people signed up to speak. The tension in the room exposed angst among students and parents regarding the state of Durham’s system of education. Many fear that administrators have given up on educating students at low performing schools.

The controversy began with the proposal to close Chewning and W.G Pearson Middle Schools due to the operating expenses connected to the opening of the Lucas Middle School next year. Becoats responded with a new proposal that involved the opening of the Lucas school. That proposal calls for the school to house an International Baccalaureate program with 70 percent of its students coming from the enrollment area and 30 percent coming from a lottery; or to open the school without an International Baccalaureate program, with all of its students coming from the enrollment area.

Becoats had called for developing a magnet to magnet feeder system with an overhauled transportation scheme with just four to six bus stops for students attending magnet schools. The revised proposal continues to phase out both Chewning and W.G. Pearson. The closure of those schools has people wondering about the underlying motivation.

One of those parents spoke at the forum held at Southern High School. “The underlying message from their statement was ‘we don’t want these poor black/brown kids either’,” Steve Bumgardner wrote in an email sent to members of the school board and key administrators following the community forum.

Bumgardner’s response opened the proverbial can of worms that many refuse to face. The Durham Public School system is facing a dangerous season. Like many school systems across the country, leaders are grappling to break free from the stranglehold of a tarnished reputation. While leaders do their best to convince parents there is reason to keep their children enrolled in Durham Public Schools, they face the stiff competition of private and charter schools.

Those argumentative parents and baffled students, who showed up to express their opinion, sense a dedication to offer alternative academic options to weary parents while pushing the need to improve academic performance of low performing schools on the back burner. This is a troubling matter due to how, if true, it leads to the re-segregation of the school system.

According to the Herald-Sun report of the December 5 public meeting, Jasmine Grace, a Hillside High School senior, complained that the focus on building up magnet programs, while ignoring programs at neighborhood schools, left schools like Hillside underserved. “Hillside isn’t considered a ‘good school,” she was quoted as saying in the Herald-Sun. “At Hillside, students who are enrolled in standard courses, who aren’t enrolled in [specialized programs], we find it hard to access resources or find that we don’t have the same benefits or opportunities as students at ‘good schools’”

Grace’s usage of the phrase “good schools” places this conversation within a context that speaks to the burden of those troubled parents. As administrators discuss school closings, changes in the transportation system and the provision of more academic options, it’s vital that all of us pause to consider how all of it sounds. The language involving the education of our children sounds more like a business model.

Rather than talk about improved academic performance, we discuss repositioning the system to compete with existing threats to our growth. Schools like Voyager Academy compete for the best minds within the system. The magnet approach becomes a marketing strategy designed to convince white and middle class African Americans to enroll their students in the new improved school option.

Schools are downsized to maximize the return on investment. It all appears as a way of placating those parents ready to pull the plug on public education. All in an effort to counterbalance the fear among parents unwilling to cast their children to those unruly wolves attending those “bad schools”. All in an effort to offer an option that convinces them not to join ranks with those who have given up on the dream of integration.

It’s all about the business. I sure would like to hear more about how to improve the quality of education for all our children. The spirit of competition doesn’t allow space for that type of conversation. Not when each parent is vying to provide the best option for their own child.

It all makes sense. It’s life in a world where the fit survive. There’s no time to worry about “those” kids when the only thing that matters is your own.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cousin Replaces Allison as Chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People: Now What?

Philip Cousin has been chosen to lead the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. During a brief speech prior to the vote, Cousin emphasized his service as a member of the Board of County Commissioners, the Durham Public School Board and twenty years as Pastor of the St. Joseph AME Church.

The pews at the Community Baptist Church were filled with Black residents of Durham County hoping to cast a vote to begin a new saga for the once powerful organization. This was their chance to voice an opinion related to who should replace Lavonia Allison, who stepped down after 14 years as Chairwoman. A few voiced the opinion that everyone should be granted a chance to vote. Only 24 people were allowed to vote due to the constitutions definition of active membership.

The constitution may have helped Cousin’s win the election. Allison voiced her support for Cousin, but it’s possible that many present showed up to cast a vote for Hester. The issue of contention with those who supported Hester was his commitment to the Durham Committee. Cousin has not attended meetings which didn’t set well among those who have been present over the years. Allison’s support of Cousin served as the passing of the torch to one capable of restoring integrity and galvanizing support among those who have walked away.

Many who backed Hester fear the connection between Allison and Cousin. Could this be her way of maintaining control by using Cousin as a puppet dangling from her strings? Hester is perceived as one who can effectively create distance from Allison. The perceptions that Cousin will be used by Allison both underestimate the character of Cousin and overestimate the influence of Allison. The endorsement of Allison should be construed as a sign of good things coming for the Durham Committee.

Among those interested in participating in the work of the Durham Committee, serving with Hester was never an option. Despite the good he has done, the need was for a complete break from the way business has been handled over the past 14 years. The Durham Committee has become depicted as a divisive body incapable of moving toward any form of compromise. It has been fractured by a leadership style and organizational culture that pits all things black against all thing that aren’t black. As a result, the Durham Committee has failed to generate interest among those fed up with a lack of productivity.

What the Durham Committee needed wasn’t within the organization. Cousin talked about formulating a plan, following through and holding leadership accountable. That’s what has been missing, a lack of clarity of vision and purpose that get’s people excited about participating. The Durham Committee was suffering due to an assumption among those who held on the best they could. The strength of the Durham Committee is not its historical bearings. It’s not the command of blackness. The Durham Committee is not significant due to the solidarity among those who share the same hue. Its vision and purpose that makes the difference. That has been missing.

Allison and Hester represent an antiquated methodology when it comes to activism. The Durham Committee has failed to solidify collaborative efforts among other groups with similar visions. They have failed to energize a collective body around a vision beyond who gets elected for public office. More is needed than black folks serving on the school board.

The black community has been strangleheld by an old assimilation agenda that needs serious revision. The Durham Committee needs to fast forward to a world that has evolved and adapted beyond the old protest songs of the movement. It’s time to recognize those weeping in the valley. They have no clue regarding the battles for leadership of the Durham Committee. To all that I say, shame on all of us. Shame on us for fighting over who has the right to vote to lead the organization. Shame on all of us for getting stuck on maintaining what was needed long ago while failing to see what is required today.

Hester represents an outdated assimilation model for community engagement. Fight the white man, fight for black owned businesses, and keep the enemy away from what belongs to our people. There is a time and place for that form of conversation, but wait a minute. Do you see your Latino brothers and sisters who are suffering to maintain life? Have you noticed the poor not benefitting after you get your candidate into public office?

It’s time for massive change in the way black people function in leadership. It’s time for communities of faith to change. It’s time for leaders to change, and, yes, it’s time for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People to change the way black leadership is viewed in Durham.

Do your thang Rev. Cousin. The foot soldiers are coming home.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cline Vs. Hudson: Better than CSI

Sorry folks, this is not CSI Durham. So don’t expect cases being solved after examining a bug under a microscope to determine the time of death or decoding DNA from a flake of dandruff. We simply lack the technology used to solve crimes like those popular television shows.

We do have a system that forces local law enforcement to send evidence to a state lab to get stacked on the bottom of evidence coming from departments across the state. It’s a system bond to blunder. Evidence gets lost, it takes far too long to process and local law enforcement has no control over how the evidence is handled.

The SBI forensic lab is in the center of discussions involving the handling of a number of high profile cases in Durham County. Tracey Cline, Durham’s district attorney, was slammed in a two part series in the News & Observer for the way she handles evidence. J. Andrew Curliss, staff writer for the N&O, made a compelling case of prosecutor misconduct in a number of cases handled by Cline.

In the case of David Yearwood, SBI forensic test showed no fluid, no finger prints and no DNA that connected Yearwood to the rape of his 12-year-old neighbor. Cline claimed those tests were inconclusive or that he failed to ejaculate. The case is under review, but, according to the N&O article, officials have not been able to find the evidence.

On yesterday, an SBI agent was questioned in connection to his testimony in the Michael Peterson murder case. Peterson, a Durham novelist, former columnist for the Herald-Sun and candidate for Mayor, was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2001. Duane Deaver, an SBI agent, was labeled as having a strong pro-prosecution bias at yesterday’s hearing.

Deaver testified in Peterson’s 2003 trial. He had analyzed bloodstains and testified that it was his judgment that Kathleen Peterson was murdered by her husband. The former director of Connecticut’s Forensic lab testified that he was troubled by documents in Deaver’s personnel file indicating a pro prosecution leaning.

"If an individual has a strong prosecution bias, they can't be objective, they have a horse in the race," said Timothy Palmbach. "The expert coming into a courtroom shouldn't care about the results, whether it's guilt or innocence."

Palmbach also testified that Deaver’s work in the case failed to apply the basic rules governing high school science. He said Deaver’s didn’t document his work, failed to explain his methodology and didn’t test every possible and competing hypothesis. He noted that Deaver failed to conduct an experiment to test the possibility that the bloodstream pattern could have come from an accidental fall.

Earlier in the week, Carl Fox, Superior Court Judge, ruled that Orlando Hudson could preside over the hearing. Cline has claimed that Hudson, who is Durham’s top judge, has directed a conspiracy to punish her for failing to dismiss a murder case.

“Judge Hudson has been a judge for 20 years and these two cases aren’t a blip on the screen,” Fox said in court. “He’s handled thousands and thousands of cases…this is dismissed.”

Cline had filed three motions in the cases of Peterson, Yearwood and Michael Dorman. Dorman’s murder charge was thrown out by Hudson earlier this year. Cline withdrew her motion on the Dorman case after Fox noted it is currently in the NC Court of Appeals.

Now Hudson, who allowed the testimony of Deaver’s in the original trial, has to determine if he would have allowed him to serve as an expert witness if he had the information presented at the recent hearing.

Isn’t this better than TV? The spat between Hudson and Cline exposes the intriguing management of the judicial process. For one, the evidence isn’t always evidence. For another, the SBI Lab can’t be trusted as a tool to uncover the truth “beyond reasonable doubt.” Then there’s that sticky question of personal bull shit

This lunacy between Cline and Hudson goes deeper, at least it seems that way, than what is happening in that court of law. Cline’s attempt to remove Hudson from those three cases appears to be about a personal beef between two powerful people who hold the lives of others in their hands. She claims he is out to punish her. Fox ruled a lack of evidence to substantiate her claim. Can someone say stick up for your brother?

There is a missing piece to this puzzle. Who sent the tip to the News & Observer? Who leaked the information that landed Cline on the front page in a series of articles that revealed her management of the DA office? Could it be that Cline thinks Hudson is behind this hack job? If he is, and I’m not saying he’s guilty, doesn’t that give credence to her claim that ole dude is out to get her?

No, this is not CSI Durham. This is better than prime time TV.

Tune in for the next episode.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Black Folks Need Justice Too

Let’s face it. The criminal justice system sucks. It’s full of corruption, set up to assist those with the resources to pay their way out of trouble and embedded in a long history of racial inequity.

Yes, I said it. The criminal justice system is compromised due to the degree race and racial discrimination plays in the way people are filtered through the system. The disproportion of black and brown people who end up serving time in prison is not solely the result of the crimes they commit. Many are handed severe sentences despite the preponderance of evidence that proves innocence.

It was a series of cases proven foul that led to the passage of the North Carolina Racial Justice Act. Floyd McKissick, State Senator from Durham, and others pushed the law to limit the death penalty. It came after considerable evidence to support the claim that race seriously impedes the judicial process.

Recently, the North Carolina Senate rewrote the Racial Justice Act by approving a bill titled No Discriminatory Purpose in the Death Penalty. Republicans claim the action is not a repeal, but, Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, told the News & Observer “it is an utter and total repeal.”

“The Racial Justice Act has very little to do with race of justice,” Thom Goolsby, a Republican from Wilmington, argued on the Senate floor. “Instead, it’s turned out to be a Trojan horse, a back-door attempt to end the death penalty in North Carolina.”

The new bill removes language that contends race is a “significant factor” in the handing down death penalty decisions. It’s yet another example of what happens when perspective is hindered by the smothering grip of politics swayed by pigeonholes.

Those who backed the change failed to concede mounds of corroboration of how race, in North Carolina, undermined numerous cases. The murder case of Daryl Hunt is an example of how the judicial system failed to guard the rights of a man later proven to be innocent. If you’re not familiar with that case, I suggest a pause to view this link:

The Racial Justice Act hoped to shield others from the pain caused by a system unable to see past the race of the person accused. It called for a moratorium until the state fixed the untidiness. Far too many were assumed guilty when the evidence failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Critics of the Racial Justice Act will point to the disparity between blacks and whites arrested for violent crimes. Their contention is that the gap is the primary consequence of more blacks being arrested. They claim that the Racial Justice Act is no more than an attack on the death penalty.

What those critics are unable to concede are the myriad of cases that uncover a system that unfairly prosecutes blacks. The case of Daryl Hunt isn’t the only example of prosecutorial misconduct in North Carolina. The cases of James Johnson, Terrance Garner and Erick Daniels expose how district attorney’s have moved to convict when there was evidence to prove someone else committed the crime.

This combined with recent rulings related to evidence submitted to the State Bureau of Investigation is enough to place the breaks on the death penalty in North Carolina. What is happening in the state, and across the country, is cases were men and women are proven to be innocent after years of time in prison. Some have been proven innocent after being executed.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, those too blind to see are incapable of implementing legislation to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Black and brown people are unguarded due to the deep-seeded stereotypes that classify them guilty before they set foot in a courtroom.

Laws are constructed to protect people from the assumptions made by those incapable of moving past their preconceived notions. It’s the potential of human error that forces the implementation of statutes designed to prevent the force of human error. They are imposed to correct systematic slip-ups.

What Republican legislators failed to confess in reversing the Racial Justice Act is the pervasiveness of evidence that speaks to the necessity of an adjustment due to human error within the criminal justice system. Beyond the question of race is the matter of protecting the rights of those accused of crimes. The system is to offer a fair trial. Those arraigned are assumed innocent until proven guilty and they are to be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

There is no adjustment based on race. The preponderance of evidence shouldn’t take on a different meaning when the person on trial is black or brown. The prosecution team isn’t empowered to treat the evidence differently when the person isn’t white.

The system is for all the people. When it doesn’t work, fix it! We did just that, but the good ole boys decided to do it another way.

I can’t wait for next year’s election. Let’s get ready to send their ass to the back woods where they belong. Until then, call them and tell them we took down the sign long time ago.

You know, the one that says “White Only”.