Live from the 215

In Search of Consistency

Sure Dr. Kermit Gosnell deserved national attention. But so do the New Orleans Mothers Day shooters. Let’s get it for them…

The man in the picture above, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, is on his way to jail for the rest of his life.


Normally, I would put an exclamation point after that yay, but when you’re talking about a man who is going to be in jail for the rest of his life because he killed babies born alive in cold blood because he didn’t want to give back the money that their mothers paid to have their late-term, unplanned pregnancies aborted, an exclamation point doesn’t seem quite appropriate.

I last wrote about Dr. Gosnell, and again, I’m only calling him a doctor because the Associated Press Stylebook demands it, in 2011 when he was indicted on four counts of first degree murder (for killing three babies that were born alive by snipping their spinal cords) and one count of third-degree murder for killing one of his patients, Karamaya Mongar.). Mongar came to the clinic for an abortion and wound up dying in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania of cardiac arrest after being administered anesthesia by either a high school student or Gosnell’s wife, a hairdresser, I can’t remember which.

(In any case, neither was a doctor…)

I remembered looking through the Grand Jury report and seeing the bodies of babies frozen in jars, stuffed into boxes, and jars filled with little babies feet (why he saved them, I don’t know…). The clinic itself was so filthy that if it were a restaurant bathroom, not only would I not be eating there, a picture of the place would be put on the restaurant review site Yelp! so that no one else would either.

He got convicted on three counts of first-degree murder (for the babies), one count of third-degree murder (for Mongar), and a myriad of other offenses, none of which included being a total douchebag, unfortunately.

Thankfully, he decided not to appeal, thus saving the taxpayers the money needed to execute his dumb ass. Sure, we still have to feed and clothe him, but we don’t have to pay what would surely be some massive legal fees as he appealed his case, so that’s a win. He’s been sentenced to three life terms, which at 72 actually means maybe 10 years max.

I’m pretty sure that’s not enough. You kill three babies because your greedy ass doesn’t want to give up the money you’d lose because these five to seven month pregnant women have changed their minds about terminating their pregnancies, I’d like for you to do a lot more time. In a small cell. With a dude named Raheem. Who just lost a child.

But since this is the best I’m gonna get, okay.

Now the Gosnell case became a national cause celebre’ for anti-abortion activists who thought that the proceedings should be televised on C-Span so that they could get on their soapboxes and say “See! This is what happens when you give women the right to an abortion! This is what all abortion providers do!”

(That’s not the case of course. But why let the facts get in the way of some time honored scare tactics?)

So to shame the national media into coming to Philly and covering what was essentially a local story (because we local reporters doing our jobs was just not good enough), these activists and their media partisans got together and demanded that the Gosnell trial be a staple on networks like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and others.

They got their way. And that’s okay. It’s not like what Gosnell did wasn’t going to end up on Investigation Discovery at some point. But I can’t help but think that the hearts of these folks were so far away from being in the right place here that it’s ridiculous. You want to make abortion illegal. I get that. But you also want to make making sure the child stays healthy, gets educated, and is allowed to live without the fear of someone rolling into his or her elementary school with a Bushmaster rifle for target practice next to impossible.

Which is why I refer to you as Pro-Birth instead of Pro-Life. If you were Pro-Life, you’d want to make sure that all these kids you want to force women into having by restricting their access to birth control and making abortion so hard to get that they have to go to butchers like Kermit Gosnell had what they needed to truly live. Instead, you want to see them born…so that you can tell them to go kick rocks.

Now I know that some of you are looking at that last sentence and want to tell me I’m wrong.

I’m going to give you a chance to prove to me that you’re not exactly what I said you are and it involves your favorite thing: forcing the news media to focus on what you want it to focus on through fear and intimidation.

On Mothers Day in New Orleans, a second-line parade was going in in one of the neighborhoods in the Seventh Ward. Folks were enjoying their day out, celebrating Mom, checking things out.

Then, this happened…

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Happy Mothers Day! It’s time to start shooting up a poor neighborhood in New Orleans!

By the time the three people who went all OK Corral on this Second Line parade got done, 19 folks were wounded, some of them critically.

And believe it or not, it went unnoticed by a lot of people, many of them hard core news junkies like myself.

So here’s your assignment: make this go viral.

Now the video above would tell you that a story about this has been done on MSNBC and good for them. But it probably would have escaped their notice as well were it not for the fact that it happened in MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s neighborhood.

Need some incentive? Two of the 19 victims clinging  to life in a New Orleans hospital are 10-years-old. You know? Kids?

And you all like kids, dont’cha? You may not like to feed ’em or make sure their teeth aren’t falling out or make sure they know how to read, but you do like ’em, right?

Then man your phone trees. Call your representatives. Get on CNN News Director Jeff Zucker’s nerves…

Oh, wait. That’s right. These kids were shot with a gun.

And people getting shot with a gun means we might have to talk about gun control, right? Can’t have that can we?

That’s what I thought.

Philadelphia Magazine Fight Club

The First Rule of Philadelphia Magazine Fight Club…

I’ve never actually seen the movie Fight Club.

All that I really know about the film is that it stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, features people fighting, and, as the picture above would indicate, somehow soap is involved.

But it’s the first movie that comes to mind when I think of the most inaccurately named publication I’ve ever come across, Philadelphia Magazine. 

You see, every year Philadelphia Magazine does something that the student newspaper from my alma mater Temple University, the Temple News, used to do every year like clockwork: piss off the Black community.

Based on this particular story, there’s an irony connected to Temple that I’ll get into a little later. 

But the Fight Club analogy is employed when it comes to Philly Mag’s relationship, or more accurately lack of relationship, with most of the people who live in the city for which it is named….you know, people of color.

The latest fissure in that relationship reared its ugly head on my Facebook feed last week and looked a little something like this…

This was the magazine’s cover story.

(Or actually, this was the cover story unless you were staying in a hotel. Tourists got a copy of Philly Mag with a picture of the lovely wife of local director M. Night Shyamalan on the cover.)

When “Being White in Philly“ hit the newsstands, it became the latest confirmation of Philadelphia Magazine own special thing it calls Let’s Piss off the Black Folks Fight Club.

Now the first rule of this fight club, like the first rule of Fight Club, is that you don’t talk about it…But where Philadelphia Magazine’s Let’s Piss Off All The Black Folks Fight Club is different is that it allows you to talk about it on a television show, radio program, or anywhere else you go to try and explain away some boneheaded thing you’ve done.

And make no mistake, this was a boneheaded article.

This saga of bonehead starts with author Robert Huber fearing for his son’s safety as he drops him off at his Diamond Street apartment near Temple University. Where all of his friends see new development (and where longtime residents seen creeping gentrification), he sees, well, this…

“Driving up Broad Street as I head home to Mount Airy, I stop at a light just north of Lycoming and look over at some rowhouses. One has a padlocked front door. A torn sheet covering the window in that door looks like it might be stained with sewage. I imagine not a crackhouse, but a child, maybe several children, living on the other side of that stained sheet. Plenty of children in Philadelphia live in places like that. Plenty live on Diamond, where my son rents, where there always seem to be a lot of men milling around doing absolutely nothing, where it’s clearly not a safe place to be.”

And the reason why he thinks that nothing’s been done about this is because white folks are afraid to tell black folks that they’re a mess and need to get their act together.

(Obviously, this guy has never had a chat with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney…)

This lack of “honesty” with black folks on the part of whites is borne of the supposition that race as an issue is only looked at from a so-called “black paradigm” and that while it is also an issue for whites, whites are never asked for their feelings on it…something that Huber goes on to rectify by going to the city’s gentrifying Fairmount section and asking white folks there about their views on race.

From Anna, the law student from Russia who believes that all black men do is smoke pot, make babies and comment on her looks to John, who liked his neighborhood until the blacks moved in from the South with “chips on their shoulders”, to Jen, who’s trying to get her neighbors to try the local public school for their kids and Ben, who stood up to drug dealers to stay on his block, just about all of the possible stereotypes are covered.

And presented in a way that guarantees a donnybrook.

And let’s be honest here. Philadelphia Magazine may say it’s interested in a conversation about race, but what it really wants is a fight.

I say this because of this inaccurately named magazine’s track record. 

Every year, Philadelphia Magazine publishes at least one story that lands it on the Facebook pages of black folks all over the city.

People read the story and get mad.

They have meetings and hold events to try and calm everyone down. In this case, a group of activists from Rising Sons, the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement project, and others  are holding an event in LOVE Park at 4 p.m. on March 20 to show that not all black folks are wantonly procreating while simultaneously smoking weed.

Organizations like the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, or in some cases even the National Association of Black Journalists, issue a statement decrying the article and the stereotypes it perpetrates. PABJ President Johann Calhoun called Huber’s article “a poor display of civic journalism on many fronts; and irresponsible in its action of race-baiting in creating tension and animosity between Blacks and Whites.”

Civil rights activists like Michael Coard, who writes for the magazine’s blog The Philly Post go H.A.M. (short for Hard As A, well, you know the rest…) on the magazine about the story.

And Philadelphia Magazine laughs all the way to the bank with the money it’s made from all those page views on its website.

Now a big part of the problem here is that the last staffer of color Philadelphia Magazine had was former University of Pennsylvania professor (and current MSNBC commentator) Michael Eric Dyson….a bit of stunt casting that went away as soon as Dyson went to Georgetown University.

Toward finding a way to change that and having a real dialogue instead of a monologue that masquerades as one, PABJ has invited Philadelphia Magazine editor Tom McGrath and Huber to a special meeting on March 19 to hear the group’s concerns on that score.

But I’m not optimistic. Do you know how many times Philadelphia Magazine has probably patted organizations representing journalists of color on the head over this issue? And let’s be totally honest here: both McGrath and Huber have already said that they stand behind this story and all of the stereotypes within it. 

What I would actually like to see people of color do when it comes to Philadelphia Magazine is start a serious “Ignoring Your Dumb Behinds” program. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that I pretend that your grotesquely misnamed publication doesn’t exist. Since I don’t read your magazine, boycotting you isn’t a solution…but boycotting your advertisers is. I’d send letters to your advertisers saying that if you want another dime of my money, you’ll stop putting ads in this bird cage liner with the glossy pages.

In other words, I’ll speak to Philadelphia Magazine in the only language it seems to understand: the language the WuTang Clan…most specifically “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”…

But let me get back to the Temple News aspect of this.

I found it kind of ironic that Huber is afraid of his white, middle-class son going to Temple because this is the kind of student that Temple has been trying to attract…almost to the point where students in the neighborhoods around the school need not apply.

Back when I worked for my alma mater’s Office of News Communications, I found myself saying more than once to my colleagues that if you don’t change the perception on the part of their white, suburban parents, it’s not going to matter. Temple is still going to be seen as this unsafe place surrounded by hostile blacks who want nothing more than to steal and beat up your kids.

Thank you, Mr. Huber, for making this argument better than I ever could.

Too bad it’ll lead to more kids missing out on a really quality education.

But then again, scaring white people back into the suburbs is what Philadelphia Magazine does best…

So in honor of that, I leave you with my favorite financial consultants, the WuTang Clan

Suffer the Children…

Before I start this posting, I’d like to introduce you to the little girl on the right.

This is my niece, Mikesha, or Keisha for short. She’s one of my older brother’s kids. In fact, by the time that you’re done reading this post, you’re going to meet almost all of my nieces and nephews through the pictures of them that I’m going to post on this blog.

All of them are in their 20s or 30s now. I lost one of them, my sister’s son Phelan, last month to a car accident. He was 36 and was the first of all of these kids that I decided I was absolutely nuts about despite the fact that they occasionally drove me up the wall.

But that’s what kids are supposed to do. They’re supposed to make you wonder occasionally why you love them….until they answer that question for you with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a handmade card, a flower they picked from the front yard or a simple “I love you…”

I have seven nieces and nephews altogether, and nothing made me happier than having them wrap their little arms around my neck as I picked them up and hugged them tightly.

But as I write this post, I want you to keep that number, the number seven, in mind because it’s going to figure prominently.
That’s because seven is the number of kids that Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been charged with killing in the inappropriately named Women’s Medical Center in West Philadelphia. Seven is the number of children whose lives were ended by either having their throats cut or by having their spinal cords snipped by a pair of scissors.

Seven kids that will never know the feeling of birthday cake in their hair.

Seven kids that will never know what it’s like to go out to the park with their mom and dad, to be spoiled rotten by Nana and Pop-Pop or to be taken to the mall by their auntie or uncle.

Seven kids that will never get to wrap their arms around someone’s neck for a hug.

Seven kids whose lives were cut short by someone for whom the word “monster” is far too kind.

This is my nephew Jack

When Dr. Gosnell was arrested last week, and I’m using the term “doctor” only because that’s technically what he is, I saw stories about the Grand Jury report that detailed what went on at the Women’s Medical Center. According to the news reports, when Dr. Gosnell wasn’t exercising, being one of the largest prescribers of Oxycontin in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or using 15-year-olds as anesthesiologists in his practice, he was taking as much as $2,400 a shot from poor women who found themselves pregnant.

But the stories didn’t tell you nearly as much as the Grand Jury report itself. Because I was getting the chance to interview the family of one of the victims, I had to read this 300-page sucker. The text was bad enough. I still see the pictures in my sleep. Thus, I find myself blogging about this at 4 a.m.

After reading it, I came to three conclusions:
1-You should never say “Now I’ve seen everything” when you’re a journalist. That’s because there’s always something lurking around the corner to prove you wrong. And it’s usually something so gruesome that there’s no way you could have seen it coming.

2-Anyone who believes that the worst thing that anyone could have done to anything was what Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick did to the dogs of Bad Newz Kennels should read this report if for nothing else but to get themselves a perspective check.

And 3-There is a hell. And it was located at 38th and Lancaster. Anyone who tells you differently needs to come and talk to me. The pictures of Babies A and B will set them straight.

My nieces Sheree and Sheena

The pictures are what make this report stand out, at least for me.
You never forget seeing bloody gurneys, bags of human body parts, and jars filled with formaldehyde and babies’ feet. (No, I’m not kidding).

But the pictures of Babies A and B did it for me. I was already wincing at different parts of the report when I came across these pictures. Seeing the pictures of dead babies covered in blood in shoe boxes and stuffed into gallon-sized spring water bottles was enough for me to forget that I’m supposed to be an impartial, objective journalist.

At that moment, I went back to being an aunt.

And as an aunt, the only thing I found myself thinking was how much money I could save the Commonwealth if I were left alone for five minutes with this sick fucker and one of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard’s bats.

After I stopped crying that is.

But while the deaths of seven children and the horrible ways in which these children were disposed of is painful enough to take in, it’s important not to forget the forever changed lives of the women Dr. Gosnell worked on in his unclean, understaffed, should have been shut down years ago, house of horrors.

There was the 19-year-old woman who had to get a hysterectomy after her visit to Dr. Gosnell. The young woman who nearly died from sepsis because parts of the fetus were left inside of her uterus. The young woman who tore her cervix and colon because she couldn’t deliver her child despite the number of drugs the doctor, or more accurately the doctors grossly untrained staff, gave her.

And then there’s Karna Maya Mongar. She was a 41-year-old immigrant who had spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal due to the religious persecution she had suffered in her native Bhutan. She had come to this country in search of a better life with her husband and three children. They had moved to Virginia and were starting a new life when Karnamaya discovered she was pregnant. The time wasn’t right for a fourth child, so she sought an abortion.

For some reason, the clinic she visited in Washington referred her to Gosnell.

Karna Maya Mongar lapsed into unconsciousness due to being administered at least five different drugs at once by folks not licensed to administer them and a lack of supervision on the “doctor’s” part. Paramedics were called, but because it took 20 minutes to get her out of the building, she was barely surviving when she reached University of Penn Medical Center, according to the report.

The next day, Mrs. Mongar was taken off of life support and later died.

She wasn’t the first. Another woman had died at Gosnell’s hand when his unsafe procedures led to her dying of sepsis. A civil suit filed on her behalf was settled by Gosnell’s insurance company, according to the Grand Jury report.

My niece Solicia

I met two members of Mrs. Mongar’s family at the law offices of Anapol Schwartz in Center City yesterday. They’ve filed a wrongful death civil suit against the doctor and are asking for punitive damages. While they realize that no amount of money will bring their loved one back, they want to realize some justice in the country that to them epitomizes the term.

This isn’t the first time that Bernard Smalley, the family’s attorney, has taken Gosnell to court. He won a civil judgement on behalf of another woman that the “doctor” had maimed. He didn’t understand why and how he had managed to stay in business despite the number of legal actions and complaints leveled against him, one taken by hand to the Pennsylvania Department of Health by a doctor who has since become the City of Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner.

That’s a good question, and it’s one that the Grand Jury Report asks. How in the hell was this person able to keep his doors open, especially since most of the city’s doctors had stopped referring patients to him?

That’s simple. Out of state referrals.

Poor women with no other options.

People who were, in the words of Gil Scott Heron, “too far gone with their problem”.

The price for Gosnell’s special brand of help started at $1,600. If the mother was further along, it went up to $2,400.
And if a woman came in and decided that she didn’t want to have the abortion after all, Gosnell and company would grab her, hold her down, and force her to terminate the pregnancy. He didn’t want to have to give back the money, you see.

According to the Grand Jury Report, Gosnell made about $1.8 million between his oxycontin and illegal abortion businesses. When the clinic was raided in February 2010, $240,000 and a gun were found in a filing cabinet in is 12-year-old daughter’s closet. The Commonwealth Health Department finally started shutting this place down in March 2010. They found the remains of 45 fetuses, many of them in freezers.

One of the fetuses was Karna Maya Mongar’s.

Oddly enough, it was still intact.

Despite the ends he was collecting, Gosnell hasn’t yet made bail. Since he’s got “criminal enterprise” charges, his cash is probably frozen.

Anyway, he’s probably safer in jail. If the folks in Kensington are any indication, doing stuff to kids is gonna get you beat down in the Illadelph these days.

My nephew Phelan

The fallout from this case is going to be pretty far reaching I think.

For one thing, it’s going to be used to gin up both sides of the abortion debate.

Despite the fact that what this so-called abortion doctor is alleged to have done is pretty gruesome, I don’t think that abortion should automatically be outlawed. In fact, the fact that this was allowed to continue for as long as it did and was as profitable as it was for Gosnell is an argument for abortion remaining safe and legal. It should also be a call to all of us to think a lot more seriously about what we teach our children, both boys and girls, about birth control.

But to me, the part of all of this that has me shaking my head the hardest is that this was done by (a) a doctor and (b) a parent.

Last year, I wrote a post about a little girl named Danieal Kelly who was the subject of another Grand Jury report. In this report, a report that led to a whole lot of folks in Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services being added to the nation’s unemployment rolls Danieal was allowed to starve to death at the hands of her mother because she didn’t feel like dealing with the possibility of cleaning her daughter up afterward, due to Danieal’s cerebral palsy. Danieal was 14 when she died. Her mother was, I understand, headed to trial. Hopefully, the wrongful death suit that Andrea and Daniel Kelly, Danieal’s parents (and I use that term loosely) filed against DHS has been thrown out of court for the joke it is.

I said in that post that if what I wrote didn’t piss you the fuck off by the time you were done reading, you needed to go out and get a kid to love so that you’d understand. If you didn’t understand after that, in the words of Flava Flav, “I can’t do nuttin’ for ya man!”

This man has a 12-year-old daughter. That he allegedly ended the lives of little people who barely got the chance to take a first breath, much less anything else, stuns me. Especially when I look at some of the parents I know. They’d never even let you get close enough to their kids to do some dumb mess like that.

And I wouldn’t either.

You’ve been introduced to some of the kids that I love through this post. These are kids that despite my predisposition to gun control, I’d shoot you in the head and call the police, and tell ’em I did it and why over.

So this bothered me a lot. Especially since the little boy on the Big Wheel is no longer here for me to protect. I’m glad that I got the 36 years that I got with him. I can only imagine how horrible it would have been if his life had ended before he got to take his first breath. What I’d have missed is incalculable.

I end this with something for my former students, just in case they’re reading this post.

I’ve talked to you a lot about getting into the journalism business, how important it is, and how much I’ve gotten out of it.

Now I’m going to tell you one way that you can tell that it might be time for you to get out.

If you can read a Grand Jury report in which seven children are murdered, people are maimed, and women die from a medical procedure that was done by everyone but a doctor and look at it as just another day at the office, it’s time for you to do something else. No one is asking you to take a side on something like this, but if it doesn’t make you run home and hug the first kid you come across after you get all of the facts out, you’re tougher than anyone I know.

And I’d hate to break it to you, but no one is that tough.

Not even your former professor.

Here is a link to the Grand Jury report. Don’t read it over breakfast. Trust me.

Hanging in Mumiaville

In politics, there are subjects that are recognized as “third rails”, meaning that if you touch them you usually wind up electrocuted, which is what happens when you touch the third rail on a subway line.

In most of the country, those “third rails” are limited to things like religion, racism or any other social issue that occasionally leads to lots and lots of loud arguments and in extreme circumstances, punches thrown.

But in Philadelphia, because we’re special that way, there is one more subject that qualifies as a “third rail”. I’ve seen loud arguments over it, all kinds of hyperbole thrown around, and because of the parties involved, punches thrown, people arrested, and charges of such things as intimidation.

Here is Philadelphia’s own special “Third Rail”:

The gentleman pictured above is Mumia Abu Jamal. When I was growing up here in the Delaware Valley, I knew him as a radio reporter on WDAS-FM. He had a distinctive voice that I really admired and that always made me pay attention to what he had to say. He was also, at one time, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, just like me.

But his journalistic bonafides aren’t what he’s known for anymore. Right now, Mumia Abu Jamal is best known as probably the world’s most famous Death Row inmate.

That’s because in December 1981 while I was trying to figure out Algebra II and looking forward to graduating from high school, Mumia Abu Jamal was shooting a Philadelphia Police Officer named Daniel Faulkner because Faulkner represented a corrupt, unjust society that could only be brought down through violent revolution. Because the evidence against him was so overwhelming, and there was a group of eyewitnesses that saw him do it, the jury that convicted him did the right thing and instead of continuing to try and get a new trial, he should be nearing his final days.


Mumia Abu Jamal was being framed for murder by a corrupt police department who had decided that because he was a Black Panther in his youth and was championing the cause of a back-to-nature group called MOVE that he was a violent revolutionary and deserved to be put to death for his beliefs. He was convicted in a trial for which the word “sham” would be a kind description because of the rampant and blatant racism of the judge that presided over it, the witness coercion by the police (and then Police Chief Frank Rizzo) that was a hallmark of it, and the fact that Mumia’s brother William was either prevented from testifying by his lawyer, or coerced into not testifying by the police. In any case, there are too many unanswered questions in the air to put him to death.

It is these two extremes that are the basis of two movies that were shown here in Philly this week. On one side is “Justice on Trial-The Case of Mumia Abu Jamal”, which promises to provide new evidence that Mumia was framed, evidence that includes the author of a book entitled “The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal.” On the other side, “The Barrel of a Gun”, a film which makes the argument that Abu Jamal should have been put to death years ago and here’s the reasons why.

I spent a day seeing both films. What I also ended up seeing was how far the Constitution can stretch….and how that elasticity can be seen as onerous to some.

I started out the day by seeing “Justice on Trial” at the National Constitution Center. In addition to the film, there was a panel discussion that included Temple University journalism professor Linn Washington, attorney Michael Coard, and, believe it or not, Mumia Abu Jamal himself. (via phone) An audience of Mumia’s supporters, academics, journalists (it was a press screening) and students from the Boys Latin Charter School viewed the film.

When “Justice” director Kouross Esmaeli was finishing his documentary on the Jena 6 trial a few years ago, he was looking for someone to narrate the project. He considered a lot of voices for the project, but decided that the best person to help him tell the story of a fight that showcased the racial pitfalls for Blacks in the Louisiana legal system and the young men who found this out the hard way was…..Mumia Abu Jamal.

After the project ended, Esmaeli decided to look at his narrator’s situation and with the help of his producer Johanna Fernandez the larger criminal justice system.

“We didn’t take a position in terms of guilt or innocence,” Fernandez said. “We just poked holes in the accepted narrative and laid out the inconsistencies, and the instances of tampering with evidence and the coercion of testimony and bribery of witnesses.”

The heroes in this piece included those attorneys who continue to try and find a way for Mumia to get a new trial, the people who make up International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu Jamal, MOVE, a back-to-nature group that had its own violent confrontation with police in 1978, and the Black Panthers, a revolutionary group that Mumia belonged to as a teen.

We even met his kids in this film, kids who have since had kids of their own who only know their grandfather as a man behind bars. All of the above were portrayed with dignity despite being in a situation that is rough at best.

Because what happened with Mumia happened here. Esmaeli and Fernandez were especially interested in bringing the movie to Philadelphia, bringing everyone on both sides into the discussion, and trying to come to a meeting of the minds. But it proved to be a whole lot harder than they thought, Fernandez said.

“We had a hard time finding a [public relations] person here to even help us get the word out,” she said. “There were so many folks here that had relationships with the government and the police department that no one would touch the movie. We were motivated by a desire to have an open, honest dialogue in Philadelphia. But there was so much police intimidation.”

The phrase “police intimidation” seems to be the best lead in to the second half of my journey, my trip to see “The Barrel of a Gun”, the latest film from local director Tigre Hill.

When I walked into the Merriam Theater to see “Barrel”, I was met by, and I’m not kidding, folks in leather biker gear. As it turned out, most of them were either off-duty police officers or their supporters. In addition to an audience that consisted of them, lots of local officials were in the audience. Among them current District Attorney Seth Williams, former district attorney Lynne Abraham, Joseph McGill, the prosecutor who presided over Mumia’s conviction officials from the Fraternal Order of Police, local radio talk show host and MSNBC contributor Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow.

The heroes in this film were much different than the ones in “Justice”. For example, the loudest cheers came for former Mayor Frank Rizzo, who was known for being tough on crime, and in the minds of many even tougher on African Americans.

Many of the same people who were mentioned in “Justice” played roles in “Barrel”.

But in this film, they looked a whole lot different.

In “Barrel”, the Black Panthers were violent revolutionaries looking for police officers to kill, MOVE was a back-to-nature cult with a definite trend toward profanity, as were the International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu Jamal, and Abu Jamal himself was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer that was looking for a cop with whom he could play judge, jury and executioner.

And if you didn’t know where this movie’s heart laid, the riotous cheers from the audience when it was announced that Mumia Abu Jamal would probably never get a new trial would have told you.

The film itself was shot well. Hill did a great job. I remember talking to him when he started this project and his enthusiasm for it was clear.

But this was the first film screening that I’ve ever been to where I’ve felt uncomfortable.

I guess that some might call me hypersensitive about this, but when you hear folks yelling “fry him” about a Black man in a movie theater, especially when those folks are police officers in a city whose police department has been on Department of Justice oversight because of its treatment of people of color in the past, it may make your Spidey Sense tingle a bit.

This is not the first time that I’ve taken on the Third Rail that is Mumia Abu Jamal. I’ve written about him before in my Public Record column. And I’ll say now what I’ve said then, I don’t have an opinion about his guilt or innocence. As I said earlier, I was too busy struggling through Algebra II and otherwise trying to get through high school to really take a position here. Besides, I’m a reporter not a lawyer. It’s not my job.

But I would like to address some of the Constitutional issues that I saw.

First of all, I’m going to come right out and say that I’m not in favor of the Death Penalty period. I say this because once you kill someone, they’re gone. If it turns out that the person that you put to death was indeed innocent, you don’t get a do-over. What you do get is the knowledge that you killed an innocent man.

It is because of this that we have the appeals process that we do when someone is sentenced to death. Before we give you the hottest of hot shots, we want to make sure that you’re guilty of what you’re accused of. If there’s new evidence that might exonerate you, we want to see it. If there’s a reason you did what you did that we didn’t know we want to know it.

Now I understand that for those families who are waiting for the executions of those who convicted of murdering their loved ones this process might be perceived as onerous. Maureen Faulkner said as much in “Barrel” when she called for the executions process to be “streamlined”.

But streamlining the process would be wrong. There are too many instances of mistakes being made in the Criminal Justice system for that to be anything but wrong. I know that it hurts. I know that you might see it as justice denied. But the Death Penalty appeals process is what it is for a reason. Murdering someone for a murder they didn’t commit doesn’t bring justice. It only brings another type of guilt.

Now folks have already asked me when these films will be available in wide release. I don’t know that yet, but when I get that information, i’ll put it here on the M (p) S.

But I’m kind of glad that I’m leaving Mumiaville. It’s an interesting place to visit, but for me to stay here requires me to spend more time that I’m comfortable with in 1981. It wasn’t a bad year, but it’ll probably include Algebra II, so I think I’ll pass.

I’ll leave you with clips from both films.

JUSTICE ON TRIAL – The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal from bignoisetactical on Vimeo.

More injustice for Danieal

Here’s today’s entry for the “How the fuck do you walk around with balls that big?” file.

The parents of Danieal Kelly have filed a lawsuit against all of the provider agencies, the City of Philadelphia, and the State of Pennsylvania in connection with the 14-year-old’s death by starvation in 2006.

I wrote about Danieal a week ago after reading the grand jury report on her death. Her mother, Andrea, was charged with murder and other offenses for allowing her to starve to death with little water or food and her father, Daniel, was charged with neglect and reckless endangerment.

And now, according to today’s Philadelphia Daily News, these two assholes are trying to get paid. The $50,000 negligence suit was filed yesterday, as was a suit on behalf of Danieal’s older brother Troy, who was so distraught over his little sister’s death that he tried to commit suicide.

I’ve got no problem with Troy trying to be compensated. According to the grand jury report, he would sneak food and water in to his sister when he would come and visit. (He lived outside the home.) If he’s given money, it’ll probably go toward helping his remaining eight brothers and sisters.

But Andrea and Daniel? Come on now. You knew you were wrong when you hired the lawyer. You don’t deserve compensation. You deserve to have to live in the same waste ridden, roach infested conditions that you left your daughter in.

Let’s hope that the Feds decide that the “Son of Sam” law applies here and tells these clowns where to put their lawsuit. Or, if it’s allowed to go forward, let’s hope that any money that is gained from this goes to anyone other than this less-than-dynamic duo.

….And Justice for Some

My favorite movie of all time is …And Justice For All.
First of all, if you haven’t seen it, don’t click on this clip until you have because this is the movie’s final scene. But I recommend it because (a) it’s one of Al Pacino’s best performances, and (b) it’s about the frustration that people who try to clean up the justice system sometimes experience.

I’ve been thinking about justice and what it means a lot lately. What I’d like to see it mean is that someone has been made to atone for a wrong they’ve committed against society at large. Justice in my eyes is seeing those victimized by someone’s horrible act get the peace of mind that comes with said atonement and the punishment meted out as a result.

But in some cases, justice is impossible. Even if you lock folks up and throw away the key or execute them, the amount of atonement and punishment that would have to be done for it to come anywhere close to justice hasn’t been invented yet.

Once I tell you the story of the 2006 death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly, you’ll see what I mean.

Now because not everyone who reads The Mad (political) Scientist is from the 215 (or 610 or even the 609) I don’t dabble into local news much here. But there are just some things in this life that command you to acknowledge them and the Grand Jury report on Danieal’s death, to which I’ve put a link to at the bottom of this post, is one of those things.
When a 14-year-old disabled child is starved by her mother, ignored by her father, left to die in her own waste, and let down by a system that was supposed to look out for her, looking away is not an option for me. It shouldn’t have been for many of the folks who chose to do so either.

If I achieve nothing else by telling you this story, I hope to answer a question that I get from friends of mine who wonder why I give them such high praise when I see them, especially the ones who are doing it alone, put their kids in front of everything and anything else.

In case you all want to know why I hold you in such high esteem in that regard it’s because you don’t need a license to be a parent. It’s because kids are vulnerable and sometimes folks don’t get that. It’s because the parents that are doing it right are so rare that they stand out anymore.

And most importantly, I do it because I’ve seen, heard and read entirely too many fucking stories like Danieal Kelly’s over 16 years as an education reporter. I do it because I’ll never get the autopsy photo of a 42-lb, 14-year-old girl with bedsores that screamed at you and barettes in her matted and uncombed hair out of my mind.

I praise you because you love your kids to the point of ferocity. This kid could have used some of that.

What happened to her was unnecessary and I’m hoping that she’ll get the justice in death that she never got in life. If you’re not entirely pissed the fuck off after reading this, you need to find a kid to love. You’ll get it after that.

Because I’m the media liaison for the School of Social Administration at Temple University when I’m not doing this, I took it upon myself to read the grand jury report on Danieal’s death in case someone from the media called to talk to one of our professors of Social Work. It was a 200+ page report that read like some gawd awful hybrid of “Oliver Twist” and “Friday the 13th.”

Danieal was born with cerebral palsy, a disease that causes the muscles to tighten up and in some cases spasm uncontrollably. Some with CP are developmentally disabled, others have issues related to walking. But with the right education and medical intervention, people can live very normal and ultraproductive lives with this disease.

I know this because I see it every time I go to upstate New York to see my friend Carmen, who has CP. In addition to being the best police reporter I’ve ever worked with, she’s an award-winning writer who’s working on her masters degree and manages her uncle’s real estate holdings. I’ll literally be hopping off of the plane from the Democratic National Convention later this month and heading to upstate New York for her wedding.

But for someone with a disability to have the kind of life Carmen’s had, you have to have supports.

Danieal didn’t, at least not consistently.

According to the report, her grandmother had asked her father, Daniel, to take her and her brother Daniel Jr. away from their mother, Andrea, because she couldn’t take care of them adequately.

Daniel did as he was asked, but because he was still accessing his “playa card”, he did the minimum. When a woman came into his life who looked at the kids as her responsibility, she made sure that they were fed, clothed, and given what they needed to do well. Danieal, according to the pictures in the report, was a clean, happy kid who was going to school and even riding horses while out in Arizona.

When her stepmother left, all of that went with her.

Once Daniel and the kids returned to Philly, he decided to give custody of the kids to his ex-wife’s mother and took off, never to be seen again. Since the grandmother was ill and couldn’t care for the children alone, Andrea came back into the picture.

Philly’s Department of Health and Human Services came began receiving calls about Danieal in 2003. Each time, the case was closed twice because DHS found the allegations of neglect unsubstantiated. Finally in 2005, they gave the responsibility of making sure that Danieal got what she needed to a private company.

Between the social worker who had Danieal’s file at the bottom of a box filled with fast food wrappers and other papers, the private company who was supposed to check on her and didn’t, and the DHS supervisor that was supposed to make sure that the private company was doing its job but didn’t, nothing was done. Danieal wasn’t put in school. She didn’t get the medical treatment she needed. Nothing.

And she also wasn’t getting much food or water. Andrea wasn’t fond of changing diapers, so she kept Danieal’s food and water intake to a minimum. In fact, this kid stayed in bed in a hot room in a roach-infested apartment most days, in some cases with a coat on.

By the time that I got to the section of the grand jury report that detailed this child’s last days, I was looking for someone to hit. You tend to want to hit people who deny a child water when she cries for it. You want to hit people who won’t allow a brother to call an amublance for his dying sister in hopes of saving her life.

You want to hit someone who won’t summon their friend, a health aide, to the house until she’s sure the child is dead. You want to hit someone who would let maggots congregate in that child’s bedsores as a result of not contacting someone and letting them know she was gone.

The feeling of anger tends to overwhelm. I don’t go around condemning anyone for their circumstances, but some shit is basic common sense. But as a friend of mine often tells me, common sense isn’t always common.

Although going vigilante on these folks would have made me personally feel better, Philadelphia is lucky in that we have our own Dark Knight right here in the DA’s office. Her name is Lynne Abraham and while I generally don’t agree with her on much, when she charged nine people with Danieal Kelly’s death I wanted to shake her hand.

Here’s who is looking at some serious legal wrath:

Mom: Andrea Kelly. She got indicted for murder and related offenses.
Dad: Daniel Kelly. He got indicted for child endangerment, although a charge of making dads look like shit should be included.
Caseworker: Julius Murray. He was the caseworker assigned from MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, the private agency that DHS had contracted with to take care of Danieal. He got charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, forgery, tampering with public records, conspiracy, and related offenses because he and…..
Case supervisor and MultiEthnic founder Mickal Kamuvaka had what the Grand Jury Report calls a “forgery party” to cover their asses on this one. He’s up on involuntary manslaughter, forgery, conspiracy, perjury, and other charges.

And last but not least…
DHS Case worker Dana Poindexter, he of the unique filing system. He got charged with child endangerment, reckless endangerment, and perjury. (There seemed to be a lot of that going around.)
DHS Case worker Laura Sommerer. She’s charged with child endangerment and reckless endangerment for not making sure that MultiEthnic Behavioral Health was doing its job in this case.

Three of Andrea Kelly’s friends, Andrea Miles, Marie Moses, and Diamond Brantley were indicted on perjury charges for telling the Grand Jury that Danieal was fine and eating well before she died.

To say that they were lying their asses off was an understatement.

Seven other DHS officials, including some folks with more than 30 years in the social work biz, have also been suspended for not doing their job as supervisors and Mayor Michael Nutter said in a public forum, and I’m paraphrasing, if it had been his kid, he’d have kicked their asses himself.

While I appreciate the fact that he’s angry enough to commit assault on Danieal’s behalf, Mayor Nutter would do a little better by her memory by ensuring that no other child under the city’s care knows the pain of dying this way.

Everyone says “Never Again” when really atrocious shit happens. It would be nice if it was backed up for once.

If you want to check out the grand jury report, here’s the link: