My Dungeon Really Shook

Friday, November 23, 2012,  I read a post on twitter about the Central Park Five and I started to randomly search for anything that might have been written about it. I’d heard about a documentary coming out some time ago but had forgotten about it because I hadn’t heard anything else for months. I found the documentary’s trailer on YouTube and started researching Sarah Burns who had written a book about the case. I went to The Strand website to see if they had any copies as the book was released earlier in the year (2012). The Strand had only one copy listed in their inventory. That really meant one copy or more likely, none.

This was going to be a stretch but I figured it couldn’t hurt to check to see if there was truly a copy available. I didn’t mind searching as I love visiting The Strand because I always leave with something new to read, anyway. I made it to the bookstore and offered one of the specialists my printout of the book details, making sure to point out that “the computer says y’all have one copy available.” The specialist was very helpful and ushered me over to the law and criminal justice area. I looked through and couldn’t find it. I was determined to find this one copy and I had to have looked at those shelves for about 40 minutes before giving up.

I started to walk off but then went back. I went through each book by tapping them to make sure I wasn’t rushing and missing the book out of haste. All of a sudden, there it was. It was there. I found it! A single copy of The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns was sitting in between 2 larger books which was probably why I had missed it.

central park five book

I remember this case profoundly because my father had always said those boys hadn’t done it. My parents both followed the case and purchased The Amsterdam News religiously to follow the commentaries on what everyone was saying about it. I was about 11 or so but I distinctly remembered this case because one of the boys on trial had the same name as my own brother, Yusuf.

Like everyone who followed and knew that the convictions had been vacated in 2002, we were excited and happy for the five men. But at the same time, there was a bitterness. These boys had spent time in jail, and suffered under a scrutiny that wasn’t theirs. What about the others who are in jail for something they hadn’t done?

The night that I purchased the book, I made my way to West 4th to catch the A to Queens. As I’m waiting on the platform, The E train pulls up and I see a familiar face exit the train. It was Yusef Salaam. He was walking with Sarah Burns, and Kevin Richardson and Antron McCray were walking behind them. I looked around to see if anyone else saw or even realized what I was seeing and who these people were. Standing there dumbfounded, I watched the group make their way to the turnstiles. It was only after I watched them exit, did I consider that I should have said something or even asked for my brand new book to be signed. It didn’t occur to me that the documentary was showing that night at the IFC theater and that they would be giving a Q and A session. Made sense.

yusef salaam

I finally went to see the documentary a few weeks later. As a mother of a promising young black man and even as a sister to black men, this documentary hit home. I watched the video footage of the confessions and I just felt sick to my stomach. Even I could see that something wasn’t right with those confessions. While watching the documentary I kept thinking of how adamant my parents were about those boys not committing that crime. It all made sense.

When I finally reached my parent’s house, I told my mother about seeing them and almost wanting to cry to see that they were free and that their story was being told. They were the lucky ones, believe it or not. They actually lived to see the truth come out. It was so overwhelming that I told everyone that would listen. I even text a friend on the train ride home about it. His response was – “stop texting me and go write it down.” I couldn’t write it at that time though. I was afraid of awakening similar emotions of when I had to visit my own brother in jail.

I have the book still but I haven’t read it yet. Honestly, I’m afraid to read it. It’s a true horror story that could have been any of my own beloved brothers. There were moments when my mother and I had to do the jail visits and it was always heartbreaking. No matter how many jokes we made at that plastic table, when the CO came by and tapped the table, that’s when my heart would break. And instead of being strong for my mother, she always had to calm me down because I didn’t want to leave my brother there.

These realities make it difficult for me as a mother to release my own son into the world. As parents, we always feel like we know better. Instead of hovering over my son though, I try to show him these cases – The Central Park Five, Yusef Hawkins, Amadou Diallo, etc, so that he is aware and so he can know that these are not stories to scare him but for him to be aware that this world is not nice to everyone, especially his kind. As a black man, he has to always be prepared. As a result of seeing the documentary, I have truly considered keeping a lawyer on retainer just because. This can’t be life though….













It’s Like That

y lateefA multifaceted artist, Yusef Lateef has managed to secure his spot in the music and art worlds with his work. My favorite piece by Lateef would have to be Like It Is. The haunting violins combined with the pleading flute is arguably a masterpiece of accurate sadness, at least to me. Take listen as it’s posted below. 🙂

Learn more about Lateef at his own site.


Something for Nasiah

something beautiful

I was looking for a gift to add to a care package I wanted to send to a special girl I know. I ventured over to Barnes and Nobles children’s section to see what I could find. I always gift books to people but I wanted this book to be a little different. Not like the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales or anything Disney. But a story where the characters resemble the people around her including herself.

Slightly disheartened, I started to leave until I saw a book with a beautiful girl on the cover. She actually resembled the child I was sending the book to. Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet is a story about a young girl who decides one day to seek out the beauty in her neighborhood.

I thought about my neighborhood and what I hate about it. But then I thought about the things that make my hood beautiful like summer days when you come home and all the guys are on the block cracking jokes and reminiscing about what they did when they were young childs running wild. Even blackouts were fun because if you got caught on the wrong block, you were getting water bombed. Successfully dodging eggs on Halloween is always a beautiful thing!

The hood can be a cold, angry and scary place…but if  you look closely, you can find the beauty in it. 🙂


“Have You Ever Been In Love Before….”

I couldn’t wait. This is my favorite time of the year. Not only is it Black History Month but it’s also the bornday celebration month of some very cool people including my mother. In 5 more days, my mother and I will celebrate our birthdays together…..I was my mothers bornday gifts some 30 something years ago. Anyway, with all of that said, I’m going to start off my BHM postings with my all time favorite music artist…..

Gregory Isaacs & Dennis Brown - Judge Not (Music works)

This was the first album cover I ever saw with Dennis Brown on it. I had to be about 8 or 9, and in my father’s music room were stacks of records. I always noticed this album because Gregory Isaacs looked scary. You could hardly see his face in the shadow and he isn’t smiling. Dennis Brown though, is sitting in the chair captured my attention. At this young age, I was curious to know who these men were and what they sounded like. This album introduced me to the sultry sound of DB.

Dennis Emmanuel Brown was born February 1, 1957 in Kingston, Jamaica. He recorded his first album at about 12 or 13 titled No Man Is An Island. He is easily a renowned artist of reggae with tunes like Here I Come, Love and Hate and Money in My Pocket. But even more, he goes down in history as a musical pioneer. His music, always soulful, expressed love, righteousness, activism, history of a people, and love among fellow brethren. His music has many purposes for me. These days, Dennis Brown’s music conjures pleasant memories of days when I had decided to go natural and loc up.


Who said you couldn’t be natural and still have fun? I still partied, played mas and liked hanging out with my friends. Nights at Caribbean City, Festival City and Soca Paradise would be filled with whinin and wukin up to soca all night. I mean you had to be physically feet to keep up with those dudes because if you couldn’t keep up, they’d leave you and go dance with someone else, lol. Eventually the D.J. would have to accommodate the ital crowd, and the winded whiners, with a roots segment . And everyone knows you cannot introduce the roots reggae session of the party without Here I Come, Revolution or Get Myself Together.

I had the honor of seeing Dennis Brown perform perhaps one of his last shows in New York at SOB’s. He had just released his album Ready We Ready and I was lucky to have one handed to me by the honorable Dennis Brown himself. That was a most memorable performance on so many levels when I learned of his death shortly after. I was so heartbroken.

With all artists, their spirit lives on by way of the masterpieces they’ve left for us to enjoy but what more is you remember how you feel when you hear a song, or who you were dancing with when that special tune comes on or the way you felt when you watched the crowned prince perform for the people.

I thought the following videos were pretty cool and if you know his music, you’ll find it hard to believe that he sounds exactly as he does on his recordings. Enjoy 🙂

“History Must Restore What Slavery Took Away.”

schomburg 1

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.


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.