“History Must Restore What Slavery Took Away.”

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Arturo or Arthur Alfonso Schomburg was born January 24, 1874 in Puerto Rico. His name is easily recognizable by the Harlem library and research center named in his honor. Schomburg was a Latino historian and writer. Motivated by a teacher that informed him that black people had no history, his life’s work was to document and collect artifacts and make available the true history of African-American people in America.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was the first base that contained artifacts and letters that documented the true history of black people before and after slavery. The Schomburg Center,  probably the largest research spaces for black culture, is now being curated by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a descendant of Nation of Islam spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad.

As an active member of the Schomburg, I have to say that it always an honor and a pleasure to visit that site. Many of us take gems like the Schomburg for granted because we figure it will always be there. That isn’t always the case. The Schomburg is a center that is funded through grants, memberships and donations and not so long ago, we almost lost it due to budget cuts. I’ve attended many talks and discussions that were engaging and enlightening at the Schomburg. I encourage you to visit the Schomburg, view a James Baldwin manuscript or an upcoming exhibit that examines Africans in India.

Arturo Schomburg died June 8, 1938 becoming ill shortly after a dental procedure. His legacy and work has been carried on by remarkable members like John Henrik Clarke, Carter G. Woodson and John G. Jackson, not to mention a host of others.

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A Typical Day

During the summer of 2012, my son was arrested and spent a night in jail. This was a complaint letter I composed for the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board). It displays the anguish my family endured as a result of the NYPD’s processing of another black boy in the community. I basically just cut and pasted this here because it turns my stomach to recall this experience and to see my own mother’s anguish as she felt guilty because her grandson had been working on her lawn that entire day and ended up in jail after. Not sure of the typos as I wrote this while I was beyond anger…

On Wednesday, July 4th at approximately 9:45 PM, my son was arrested for having a “double-edged” knife in his possession. I am puzzled at what my son’s rights are, what my rights are as a parent, and the rights of the citizens of the community where I reside.

I live at XXXXX in Far Rockaway, Queens. My block is under the jurisdiction of the 101st Precinct on Mott Avenue. On Wednesday, July 4th like most communities, my family celebrated Wednesday, July 4th/Independence Day in some fashion. We were in front of our premises joking, working on vehicles and enjoying food prepared by our neighbors.

At around 9:45 PM, an argument was taking place across the street (XXXXX) between 2 men and a woman. The woman and man are occupants of the house and the 2nd man is from another area. As we watched the argument, an unmarked police vehicle pulls up in front of my residence and 3 officers exit the vehicle and approach us – Officer Mussaw, Sergeant Torres and a third officer whose name I was unable to obtain.

I am not certain why they came to our block, but immediately as they exited their vehicle, they approached my son and began to question him. I assumed that they didn’t realize there were adults standing right across from them arguing because we were all  – about 8 adults and 2 children – were witnessing an argument which was getting slightly physical.  I interrupted the questioning and asked if they were called to the block for my son. Sergeant Mussaw replied that they were not called for my son and were on patrol. Not sure what patrol meant but they way the came on the block was if they were targeting someone and not patrolling as cruising through and observing. They drove onto the block and stopped right in front of my house.

My son, Solomon XXXXX, had been cutting grass at his grandparents house on XXXXX. He had been there since 10:00 AM that morning cutting the lawn. He had been under the instruction of his grandfather who he works alongside during the week at his auto mechanic shop in Brooklyn, NY. On my son’s belt was a knife case that enclosed a “double-edged” knife. I had seen the knife before and was aware that he had it in his possession. He had been using it to open packages and specifically to open a weed whacker that he had been using to cut the grass at his grandparents house.

The knife was not concealed because Abram was outside without a shirt. It was in plain view. When the officers approached him, he was sitting on the hood of a car that was parked directly in front of the house. The officers asked him for identification and instinctively, I told him to go in the house to get it. The officers immediately responded that he could not go in the house and had to remain with them. My brother ran in the house but we could not find his identification at that moment.

While my brother searched around for Abram’s identification, I explained to Officer Mussaw that my son does not live in Far Rockaway and was only visiting me for the summer. He lives within the confines of Orange County, New York which about 4 hours from Far Rockaway with his father and that he hadn’t been on the block all day because he was on XXXXX at his grandparents house. When my brother concluded that he couldn’t find Abram’s wallet with his identification, I ran into the house to look for it. I was unsuccessful. I found a school picture that had my son’s name height and weight printed on the back but by the time I reached back in front of the house, the officers already had my son in handcuffs and holding him next to the police vehicle.

I approached the officers and asked what they were doing and what was the charge. Officer Mussaw indicated that my son was in possession of a weapon and that he needed to be taken to the precinct so that he can be run through the system to confirm he didn’t have any warrants. Sergeant Torres stepped in and started to address me with “Listen Mam, this is how it’s going go to go…” and then one of the officers asked if I could get a shirt for him because he didn’t have one on. I went inside and grabbed my son’s work uniform shirt and handed it to him so he can put it on. He was un-cuffed, given the shirt to put on, handcuffed and placed in the police vehicle. Officer Mussaw said that I would be able to receive my son from the precinct and at most, he would be given a summons for having the knife.

He was taken away in the police vehicle in front of me and other family members. At the same time there was still an argument taking place directly across the street at XXXXX.

My brother immediately drove me to the precinct. Once I arrived there the officer’s story had changed. My son was being sent to Central Bookings. So instead of the summons they said he would receive if his name came up clear, he was being sent through the system and there was no recourse according to Officer Mussaw. My son had not committed a crime, he was standing in front of his mother’s house and he was being sent through the system.

My mother was notified and arrived at the precinct trying to explain that her grandson had been using the knife to open a weed whacker he’d been using earlier that day to cut the lawn. My mother brought the box the weed whacker was in to show that the box had to be cut open and this is why Abram had the knife in his possession. My mother was laughed at and told to shut up by the captain because she was asking questions regarding the reason why her grandson had been arrested. Two of the female officers, while laughing, asked her where the weed whacker was. Another officer sitting to the right of the Captain shouted to my mother that she needed Jesus. My mother is Jewish. If it isn’t clear, this was an inappropriate statement and showed that perhaps there exists religious discrimination.

I sat with my mother in solidarity because we were concerned for our loved one and all the while we were told we had to leave because the police precinct would be closing down for the night. That was their way to get rid of us. My mother was told that if she had continued to stay in the precinct, she too would be arrested. Throughout that ordeal, there was one female officer who tried to help us by seeking out the arresting officer (Officer Mussaw) to explain to my mother what happen. To the other visible officers there, we were the laughing stock for the night. I was utterly humiliated.

We left the precinct and stood out front and we waited until we saw Abram entering the van to head to central booking. I didn’t sleep. I was ashamed, embarrassed and as a parent, I felt helpless. We hadn’t done anything wrong yet we were being treated like criminals. I took the day off from work (July 5th) to make sure that I was in court for my son’s hearing. When I arrived at Queens County Criminal Court (about 2:30 PM), my son was exiting the building. He was released and charged with a misdemeanor and summoned to serve 3 days of community service. He had 3 court papers on him and a Metrocard that was issued to him. He indicated to me that he was not read his rights and that while he was in custody, he was questioned about a series of shootings. When he told the detective he didn’t know anything because he doesn’t live in Far Rockaway, he was cursed at and told he was lying. This is harassment and I am filing this complaint as a result thereof.

I called this event typical because although I’m still mentally scarred by what happened in that precinct, this will continue to happen to black parents everywhere and sadly, my one complaint letter will not make a difference.

My Brother’s Keeper

Homer & Langley

If I had to make a new year’s resolution, it would be to read more or better yet, to make time to read and write more. I’ve actually been wanting to devote myself to reading more for some years now and I took to it in November after the Hurricane Sandy fiasco where a great portion of my library had been destroyed. Knowing that I love books, my boss gifted me with a Strand gift card. Probably the same day that I received my gift card, I purchased Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow.

Over the summer, I read an article in The New York Times about organizing the apps on smartphones, and in this article it mentioned the Collyer Brothers. Homer and Langley Collyer were brothers who lived in Manhattan during and after WWII and were notable mostly for hoarding. I Googled them, read some of the information I found and discovered that a book had been written based on their story. I was interested and wanted to learn more.

Homer, the blind and younger of the brothers, performs as the narrator of this story which weaves through the lives of both Homer and Langley Collyer and the people who contribute to their life story. There are a host of characters the Collyer brothers encounter, and I imagined what many of them looked like via Homer’s vivid descriptions of their faces and body structures by way of his fingers. These characters proved essential to Homer’s story because they contributed mostly to his personal development and made apparent his yearning for love.

Homer details, as best he can, the familial history and development of he and his brother Langley, and even attempts to explain to the reader where the hoarding issue is birthed. It begins as a philosophical idea Langley establishes that history repeats itself and therefore never changes in content but by the characters. Langley decides that he will develop a timeless newspaper that can be read forever and would infinitely remain relevant to any date and time. With this, Langley begins to collect the daily newspaper everyday and stores them throughout the house. He also begins to collect other items which will someday prove to be useful – the hoarders’ credo.

What I found most amusing about this story were Homer’s unyielding efforts at rationalizing his brother’s hoarding behavior. I’m slightly fascinated by hoarders because I cannot perceive the idea of collecting discarded materials with the hopes of it being useful one day. I also enjoyed the relationship between these brothers. Langley was responsible for Homer and it never appears that he becomes angry or frustrated with his brother’s handicap. In fact, Langley continuously works to help Homer function as normal as possible in spite of his disability. Langley even develops a ritual of researching and applying methods that offer to restore his brother’s sight. It’s pretty endearing.

E. L. Doctorow is an NYT bestseller and has received numerous awards for his works. This is my first time reading Doctorow’s fiction and I look forward to reading more.

Enjoy