Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mangum's guilty verdict may set her free

I wasn’t surprised that a jury found Crystal Mangum guilty of second-degree murder for stabbing and killing her boyfriend, Reginald Daye. Her life has been on a collision course since she accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her in 2006.

I can’t help but think the jury may have protected Mangum from further misery.  Maybe she’ll be able to find peace away from what happened on Buchannan Street in Durham, NC.

“I can’t find a job,” Mangum told me during our last interaction. “All I want is a job to take care of my children.”

I listened to the spirit beyond her words.  We talked about her past issues with men.

“I don’t know how to love a man,” she said. “Men go crazy because I’m not able to give them what they want.”

I sensed that she wanted to find more in life. Love and being loved in returned was beyond her comprehension.  Something deep and painful has robbed her of the ability to escape what happened long ago.   There was an innocence there begging to find a safe place to heal.  I felt an inner tremble too weak to take a chance.

She was trying to find her way.  I prayed it wasn’t too late.

Her story is one that refused to go away.  When Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway sentenced Mangum to 14 years and two months to 18 years in prison, it felt like the end of a story with more twist and turns than reality television.

From a group of former lacrosse players intent on suing everyone connected with Mangum’s deception, to a series of bouts with the law that kept Mangum in court, it seems to be over now.

On November, 11, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Ryan McFadyen, Matthew Wilson and Breck Archer, three former members of Duke’s lacrosse team who sued Duke University; Durham police investigators and city officials; Mike Nifong; and nurses who examined Crystal Mangum.

Federal courts had narrowed the scope of the player’s complaint.  Enough never seemed to be enough for those still aching from having their names and reputations dragged into the court of public opinion. As others endured the burden of Mangum’s dishonesty, she continued to escape fate with justice.  Mike Nifong, the Durham district attorney who called for justice before considering reasonable doubt, lost his job, was stripped of his credentials by the NC Bar Association, and has faded into obscurity.

Durham – in – Wonderland, a blog offering commentary and analysis regarding Mangum alleging rape, continues to poke at the Group of 88 - the Duke Professors who called for justice before the facts related to the case were presented.

“The paper has no comment from any member of the Group of 88, nor have I seen any comments elsewhere on the web from any Group members,” KC Johnson, owner of the blog writes.  “Presumably few if any of the Group continue to find Mangum credible, but it's worth reiterating that all except Arlie Petters have not in any way distanced themselves from their 2006 statement”.

Punishing Mangum, and anyone associated with her, became the mission of many.  They couldn’t rest until punishment was given for that malicious lie.  They cried foul after Mangum was found innocent of arson, injury to personal property, contributing to the abuse and neglect of her children and resisting arrest. Mangum smashed her boyfriend Milton Walker’s windshield with a vacuum cleaner, slashed his tires and set his clothes on fire because she says he punched her in the face repeatedly.

The details of that case weren’t allowed into evidence during the recent trial.  Despite not being allowed to use those facts, prosecution was able to show a pattern.  Mangum has problems with men.  She has a temper.  She has issues with being faithful – a fact that has led to confrontations with her boyfriends.

Mangum shared her story with the jury. Prior to her testimony, they heard from the victim. Daye spoke to an investigator twice before he died.  Daye told the investigator he felt disrespected when Mangum brought men to his apartment. He admitted to kicking the bathroom door when Mangum locked herself inside.  He admitted to grabbing Mangum’s hair and continuing to fight after she stabbed him in the side.

Mangum claims it was self-defense.  The jury found her guilty of second-degree murder.  First-degree murder was an option. Her attorney says he will appeal.

She asked me for help that day in the basement at the Market Street Coffee House.  I placed my role as a journalist on the backburner and prayed for a way to help her find peace.  She wanted better for her children. She wanted a way to escape her pattern with men. She wanted something much deeper than I could find words to express.

Mangum reached out to me before I left North Carolina.  She told me she heard I was leaving.  She was still searching for work.  More than any of that, I felt her need for acceptance and freedom away from the assumptions people make.

I pray for the Daye family.  I’m saddened that no verdict will bring him back to them.

I pray for Crystal Mangum.  There is more to her than most people will ever now. Maybe she can find peace away from the glares of her critics.

Maybe others will be able to release their need to punish what happened long ago. Maybe this story has come to an end.

If so, Mangum can begin writing a new story.

Friday, November 22, 2013

President John F. Kennedy: Five years of assassinations

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The past week has been jam-packed with images and commentaries on the event. From trhe new book written by the secret service agent who was there when it happened, to the ESPN report regarding the NFL’s decision to play games the following Sunday, this week has been a trip down memory lane.

Kennedy’s assassination, on November 22, 1963, was the first among five that exposed a critical divide concerning America’s communal image.  Medger Evers was killed on June 12, 1963. Malcolm X was killed on February 21, 1965.  Martin Luther King, Jr. died on April 4, 1968, and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Jr. was killed on June 6, 1968.

It was an era of both domestic and global confusion.  America’s persona as the world’s body ground against all forms of tyranny was juxtaposed against bloody battles regarding race. The nation was engulfed in redefining its identity.  The melting pot experiment was exposed as a colossal contradiction. 

Public servants imitated the message of Hitler

In 1963, the world watched as Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor , commissioner of public safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, authorized the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators, including children.

The nation and world took notice on January 14, 1963, as George Wallace stood on the gold star where Jefferson Davis took oath, 102 years earlier, to become president of the Confederate States.  Wallace boldly stood to take his oath of office as Governor of Alabama.

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” he said.

In North Carolina, Jesse Helms emerged as a critic of the civil rights movement.  His columns in the News & Observer reflected a growing view among southern whites. Helms claimed he civil rights movement was infested by communist and “moral degenerates”, and argued that Medicaid was a "step over into the swampy field of socialized medicine".

The deaths of the Kennedy brothers, Medger, Martin and Malcolm are imbrued within a context were the battle to celebrate particular perspectives is hindered by a universal mandate.  Those clinging to Dixiecrat views were forced to concede a world were black people exist beyond functioning as their servants.  Democracy was tested in a way that reflected the rationale for the Civil War.

The deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are, in part, about America’s unresolved issues with race. It was also about the fear of Communism and liberalism. They all died due to America’s ongoing dilemma with dreading the unknown.  The years between 1963 and 1968 reflected the nation’s fear of the other. 

Are we a nation that kills the best of what we could be?

Remembering JFK uncovers the agony related to being nurtured in an era of assassins. The phantasmagoria of better days was quickly eradicated by the deaths of those who tried to lead the way.  The subtle message regulated the ambitions of those who followed - be careful when you challenge America’s contradictions. 

The essential question for today regards the lessons learned since the assassinations of those who tried to make a difference.   Has America changed since then, or are we quick to kill those who expose the things we fear?

Jesse Helms argued that Medicaid is socialized medicine. Sounds familiar.  States should be allowed to enforce laws consistent with the views of its citizenry.  He’s a communist.  He’s a liberal intent on destroying America. 

The force of rhetoric stirs the unruly ways of lunatics. That’s a lesson taught by the death of President John F. Kennedy.  We will never be a diverse union until we celebrate the message of those we fear.

I wonder if we will ever learn from our mistakes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Academy Awards and Dateline: Two cases of falsely accused



I watched in amazement NBC’s Dateline feature on the release of Ryan Ferguson.  I watched the Ferguson family scuffle as Ryan waited to be set free after being convicted of the death of Kent Heitholt, a sports editor killed in the parking lot at the Columbia Daily Tribune.

It happened in my home town.  I returned just weeks before the Western District Court of Appeals vacated Ferguson’s 40 year sentence.  Charles Erickson, who had claimed he and Ferguson killed Heitholt, testified he couldn’t remember what happened. He was too intoxicated to remember what happened.  Erickson is serving a 25 year sentence after cooperating with the prosecution.

The district court ruled that Ferguson’s original trial was flawed and that a new trial without key evidence would have to determine guilt of evidence.  The state decided against a new trial.

I was moved by Ferguson’s release.  I celebrate parents who never questioned their son’s innocence, and a defense attorney who pressed to the end.  Kathleen Zellner, the Chicago based attorney who worked the case pro bono, refused to allow Ferguson to remain incarcerated for 40 years.

“It’s easy to be falsely convicted,” Ferguson told the crowd after he was released at the Boone County jail.  He mentioned the masses of others caught up in a system despite mounds of evidence to prove their innocence.

The story reminded me of Mumia Abu-Jamal – another case with sketchy and circumstantial evidence that led to a conviction.  Ferguson’s case sheds light on a judicial system that often fails to get things right.  Years were taken from Ferguson’s life.  He’s forced to contend with the transition back into life of freedom.  That’s not as easy as one might think.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.  He was originally sentenced to death.  That sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2012.  The New York Times described Mumia as "perhaps the world's best known death-row inmate" Supporters from around disagree with his conviction.

The convictions of Ferguson and Abu-Jamal, and their public support, end the tie between the two.  Ferguson is white.  Abu-Jamal is black.  Ferguson was young with no political agenda.  Abu-Jamal is a black nationalist who fought on behalf of MOVE, a radical movement in Philadelphia.

Dateline’s report reflected the power of the press and community support in shifting unfair convictions.  Many documentaries have been produced to expose Abu-Jamal’s case.  The most recent could lead to the release of the man with the golden voice.  His radio show From Death Row continues to air on prison radio.  He was celebrated as a journalist before his arrest and conviction.  The most recent documentary may be the one that forces his release.

Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary qualifies for Academy Awards consideration.  Director Stephen Vittoria deserves recognition for presenting a compelling glimpse at the humanity of Abu-Jamal.  While in Durham, NC, I helped bring the documentary to the Carolina Theatre and Hayti Heritage Center. Rachel Wolkenstein, one of Abu-Jamal’s attorney’s, made a strong case for his innocence after the viewing of Manufacturing of Guilt, a short film that examine the evidence associated with the case..  Noelle Hanrahan, the producer of Abu-Jamal’s radio broadcast, shared her experiences with the man and her role in making the documentary.

I’m close friends with Keith Cook, Adu-Jamal’s brother.  I met Jamal Hart, Abu-Jamal’s son.  I listened as Keith talked about carrying his brother around as a child.  I was moved when Jamal shared stories from his childhood.  I cried him Abu-Jamal called from prison to thank us for supporting him.

Beyond being an amazing documentary, Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary educates viewers.  Those who watch it leave convinced of Abu-Jamal’s innocence.  Holding an Academy Award may be enough to set Mumia free.

Ferguson proves innocent people are going to prison.  Lapses in the judicial system transcend the burden of race.  It may be true that most falsely convicted are black.  It may also be true that it’s harder to prove innocence when race is a factor.  It’s saddening that Ferguson had to endure the loss of years.  Mumia is still there.

May this Oscar go to Mumia. 

Free Mumia. Free Mumia

That’s taking Dateline to another level of exposure.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Charles Barkley defends using the N-Word

Note: I use Nigger versus N-word to add emphasis to problems related to saying the word

Charles Barkley says he will continue to say Nigger.  He defended Matt Barnes for calling teammates Nigger in a tweet following a scuffle with Serge Ibaka.  Barnes was upset after being ejected for “standing up for these Niggers.”

“’I’m a black man,” Barkley said during the pregame show on TNT. “I use the N-word. I will continue to use the N-word among my black friends and my white friends.”

Barnes called his LA Clipper teammates Nigger weeks after Ritchie Incognito was exposed for leaving a Nigger laced voice message confronting Jonathan Martin.  Incognito was suspended by the Miami Dolphins for calling Martin a half-Nigger, and threatening to punch him and his mother.

Martin left the team to pursue therapy, and claims being bullied by Incognito and other members of the team.  Teammates are standing behind Incognito, declaring him an honorary Nigger.

Jason Whitlock, columnist for ESPN.com, blasted those teammates for nurturing a culture in common with prison nation.  Whitlock chastised black men for questioning the manhood of a black man with a Stanford degree and Harvard educated parents, while affirming the thug ways of a white man designated to help toughen up the “half-Nigger.”

That’s yesterday’s news.  Barnes refused to apologize for writing Nigger.  He says it’s commonly used during games and in the locker room.  Barnes says he will continue to use it, and there’s nothing that can be said to change his mind.

ESPN's Michael Wilbon quickly defended Barnes.

"People can be upset with me if they want," he said on "Pardon the Interruption." "I, like a whole lot of people, use the N-word all day every day my whole life. ... I have a problem with white people framing the discussion for the use of the N-word."

Barkley’s comments echoed Wilbon’s.  “What I do with my black friends is not up to white America to dictate to me,” Barkley said.

Whitlock took issue with Barkley’s defense of Banes. He called for a ban of Nigger in the NBA and NFL.

“The N-word is a not a generational issue. The N-word was never a fad. It was a primary tool in the enslavement, disenfranchisement and cultural destruction of a race of people,” Whitlock states.

Whitlock’s call to ban Nigger was followed by a personal confession. 

“I still use the N-word privately. I'm not proud of this fact. I would never defend my use of the word. I use it far less than I did a decade ago,” Whitlock writes. “I've been battling for years to eliminate it from my vocabulary.”

Barkley, Wilbon and Whitlock all admit using the word.  The only difference is with Whitlock’s desire to dismiss the word from his vocabulary.  Given Whitlock still uses the word, why does he use it, what will it take to keep him from using it, and should white Commissioners be empowered to force black men to stop using the word?

As distasteful as the word is for most of us, isn’t that type of enforcement rooted in a position of privilege that denies black men the right to establish and affirm their own terms of communication? 

Nigger is a complex word.  Who says it and why it is used adds to the violence associated with the word.  If Barnes, Barkley, Wilbon and Whitlock can use it, why can’t Paula Deen.  If black men in the locker room can use it, why can Ritchie Incognito?

The NAACP attempted to end the debate in July of 2007.  Thousands gathered in Detroit for the funeral and burial of Nigger. A horse drawn carriage carried a wood coffin to the grave. The word “nigga was displayed on a ribbon, and there were black roses on the coffin.

 “Good riddance. Die, N-word,” Kwame Kilpatrick, then Mayor of Detroit, said. “We don’t want to see you around here no more.”

Nigger rose from the grave 10 minutes later.  It was heard when a car passed by with windows rolled down with the sound of a Tupac groove.

Black men aren’t ready to put Nigger to rest.  They know it’s wrong to summons memories of how it was used to marginalize their ancestors.  They changed it from Nigger to Nigga for a reason. It doesn’t feel the same when the meaning behind the word has changed. In their minds, Nigga isn’t Nigger when a black man uses the word.

Nigga may not carry the same force as Nigger, but when a white person uses Nigga it all means the same.
Confusion abounds

Friday, November 1, 2013

FBI begins investigation into Brandon Colemans death


The U.S. Department of Justice has begun an investigation in the shooting death of Brandon Coleman.  The decision came after a complaint was sent regarding Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight’s ruling not to press charges.

The complaint argues charges were not pressed due to a racial bias.  Agents from the FBI will consult with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to decide on federal charges.

Coleman was shot four times by Dustin Deacon on May 19.  Deacon claims he was protecting Rolland Deacon, his father, after witnessing Coleman point a gun at his head. Rolland Deacon greeted Coleman carrying a machete.  On Oct. 23, Knight said he wouldn’t file charges due to Missouri’s “castle law”.
Brandon Coleman

Winona Coleman-Broadus, Coleman’s mother, contacted the Department of Justice to seek consideration of federal violations.  FBI agents aren’t seeking to determine if Knight’s ruling is wrong, but if Coleman’s civil rights were violated.

The FBI’s investigation of Deacon is significant beyond the black communities desire to seek justice for the death of Coleman.  The failure to press charges against Deacon is another example of how “stand your ground” and “castle laws” have radically altered law enforcement across the nation.  In addition, it reflects how America’s position that we are living in a post-race society negates race as a motivation fo murder.

Missouri is a castle doctrine state with a “stand-your-ground” law. The state enacted its castle law in 2007. The law removes the duty to retreat for persons who are attacked within their home or vehicle. The law justifies the use of deadly force when victims reasonably believe their lives to be in danger, and provides them immunity from civil and criminal action.

The death of Coleman follows a chain of cases that forced prosecutors to dismiss how race served as a factor.  The confrontation between Coleman and the Deacons resulted in the interracial relationship with Rolland Deacon’s white daughter.  “Stand your ground” and “castle laws” are being used to justify the murders of those attacked based on racist assumptions.

Knight’s decision not to pursue the case is another example of how prosecutions are undermined by laws that make it difficult to find white men guilty when black men are killed.  The prejudices of the jury, and culture of a community, factor in leaning the scale of justice against black men.

On trial is a community with serious problems related to race relations.  Also on trial is a state enamored with guns and protecting the rights of people to kill those deemed a threat to their property, family or ideology.  Could it be that Deacon killed Coleman to protect the racial purity of the family?  Is it possible that Coleman showed up that day to make amends, and found himself face to face with a clan prepared to put a end to the Negro playing games with their white daughter and sister?

It’s all the type of speculation that could have been exposed in court. Sadly, “stand your ground” and “castle laws” aren’t designed to ponder that type of conjecture.  There’s no place within the new law for an assessment of motives, or how racism factors into the decision to pull the trigger – not once, twice or three times, but four.  Deacon shot his 12- gauge shotgun until he was sure that coon was good and dead.

Yes, more speculation.

What can we conclude?  It’s a longshot that the investigation will rule that Coleman’s civil rights were violated. The force of state law precludes the power of the feds  States have effectively taken us back to the days that empowered the confederacy in a way that minimizes a national agenda.  Could we be in the midst of another Civil War?

It’s frightening to live in a state that gives racists the right to bear arms.  It’s even more perplexing when they’re given the right to kill.

Sorry, I forgot.  We can’t talk about race as a motive.  Apparently, Coleman crossed that line that made the Deacon’s feel uneasy.

Four bullets later he’s another reminder of what happens to black men who forget their proper place.