Former FBI Director Meets with HU Student Leaders
Former FBI Director James Comey spoke to Howard University students about their experiences with law enforcement and race. Comey, the 2017-2018 Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy, held the event as part of lecture series focusing on various topics of importance. NewsVision reporter Kenae Damon spoke to Comey and students.
Gun Violence in America: Part 2
This is the second of a two-part series on the murders of teenagers throughout the U.S. While the nation's attention is focused on deaths in school shootings, the equivalent number of teenage murders place every week, mostly in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods with little fanfare or public debate.
WASHINGTON — Steven Slaughter was walking home from the 7-Eleven store with friends on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the year in his southeast Washington neighborhood when it happened.
Steven was with two of his friends. It was January 14, the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Steven, a 9th grader who dreamed of playing football for a major college, and they were looking forward to being out of school Monday for the national holiday.
When they got to the 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue, a man who police say is 21-year Anthony D. Allen, pulled a gun and tried to rob them. Something went wrong, and Steven was shot several times.
When police arrived at 6:59 p.m., Steven lay bleeding on the ground in front of Garden Memorial Presbyterian Church—just a block from his house. Medics took him to a local hospital, but not long after his arrival he was dead, and with him the dreams of a young black child and all the hopes and aspirations that his parents, relatives and friends had for him. He was 14.
Steven was the youngest of four teenage victims of gun violence in one month in the nation’s capital at the start of the year. The others were Paris DeShawn Brown, 19; Davon Fisher, 17; and Taiyania Aaliyah Thompson, 16.
While America mourns the deaths of 17 teenagers killed in a Florida high school shooting and debate gun control in the wake of such incident, lost in the conversation is the fact that a similar number of children and teenagers are shot and killed every week.
Instead of mass murders victims, they are single, solitary deaths, nearly hree a day. According to statista.com, 1,278 people between the ages of 13 and 19 were killed in 2015, on average more than 20 each week. They are children like Miracle McGowan, 15, killed January 12 in a drive-by shooting as she and three other people sat in a car in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood in Los Angeles.
They are Natalie Hernandez in Dallas, 14-year-old fatally February 12 as she and three other W. W. Samuell High School students were sitting in a car in a city park. They are Ga'Quavious Williams, 17, found dead in February outside of an Atlanta home with a gunshot wound in the back.
Mostly they are black and Hispanic, and their deaths rarely become a national rallying point around guns or gun control. Instead, family members and friends place their photos on T-shirts and place mementos around the places they were killed.
Four murders of teenagers in one month was an oddity for D.C., but it was also a reminder of disparate toll that gun violence takes on black communities.
This is a look at some of those lives.
Steven was described as a good student with lots of friends.
“Everybody who came across him, they loved him,” his mother, Tiffanie Jones, 35, told the Washington Post, “They could feel his energy.”
At Friendship Collegiate Academy, where Steven went to school, 9th Grade academy director, Lauren Johnson, recalls Steven as a “lively,” “giving,” and “sweet” student. He worked hard for his grades and was highly regarded by many teachers and students, she said.
Shortly after his death, the school held a ceremony at the flagpole to honor his life. Led by the campus’ counselor-pastor, students read poems, lit candles, and released balloons. Students signed laminated posters with kind words and thoughts to give to his mother. Grief counseling also took place in each of the classes that he attended.
Many students cried, Johnson said.
Steven’s locker remained decorated with photos, balloons, and signatures in March, as did his seat in his former English and math classes. On the 14th of February and March, the school gave prizes at lunch to commemorate Steven’s core values.
“We have done so much to honor Steven,” Johnson said, “I wish we could do more.”
Taiyania Aaliyah Thompson, was the last teenager shot and killed in the nation’s capital in January.
Thompson, 16, was fatally shot Jan. 25 while sitting on a living room sofa inside an apartment on Mount Olivet Road in Northeast Washington. Nearly a week after the shooting, police arrested Taiyania’s boyfriend of 8 months, Dekale Bowman.
Bowman, 18, has been charged with second-degree murder while armed. An affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court stated that he shot Taiyania “by accident.”
As a child, Taiyania was given the nickname “Mama” by family for her caring nature, her mother and sisters said. In an interview, her family described her as “youthful,” while also having a maturity level unusual for her age.
Her sister, Tiashaundra Thompson, 19, said the two had a special relationship. Thompson recalled Taiyania consoling Thompson’s daughter when she was a baby. Taiyania could stop her from crying with little effort, an ability that her older sister could not understand.
“She had my back and I had hers, and we had that understood,” Thompson said.
Taiyania wanted to become a veterinarian, her mother, Lajoyina Thompson said.
“She used to want to rescue all the animals that she saw outside,” Thompson, 41, said.
While attending Sustainable Futures Public Charter School, Taiyania began to experiment with fashion and makeup and hoped to one day open her own clothing store, her family said. She was a private person, they said. She spent much of her time writing about life experiences; filling notebooks with raps, songs and poems.
“Her uniqueness was remixing everything in her own way,” another sister, Tiandra Thompson, 21, said.
Taiyania’s family said she was deeply affected by her father’s death, even though she was just 5 months old when he was fatally shot, allegedly in a robbery in D.C. He was 17—just one year older than Taiyania when she died.
“[His death] was something that she had to carry with [her],” sister Tiashaundra Thompson said.
For years, Taiyania yearned for her father, her family said.
Taiyania’s sister Tiandra said two have been reunited in death.
“He’s gone and she’s up there with him,” she said, “and that’s all that she basically ever wanted. That’s all she ever needed. Nothing here on this earth, on this world, could’ve satisfied her but that.”
Lajoyina Thompson said her daughter left her a message in a post Taiyania made on social media.
In the comment, written weeks before her passing, Taiyania referred to her mother as a “strong, beautiful, young, black queen.”
“I think that’s why I’m able to stay as strong as I am,” her mother said, “because that was my daughter’s last image of me, and I want to uphold that image that she left having of me.”
WASHINGTON – Former FBI Director James Comey, speaking to Howard University students, professors and staff, this week distanced himself from an FBI report that said “black identity extremists” were responsible for “increased violence” by African-Americans against law enforcement.
The report, entitled “Black Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” has raised concern among many, including the 49-member Congressional Black Caucus, which met with the current FBI directly shortly after the report’s release last August.
Comey said he was not aware of it while he was with the FBI.
“The memo that generated all of the controversy was written after I was fired, so I don’t know exactly,” said Comey who was released May 2017 by President Donald Trump following Comey’s refusal to drop an investigation into Russian tampering in U.S. elections. “I never heard the term ‘black identity extremists’ while I was director.”
Still, Comey offered his interpretation of what the report might have been trying to say.
“I think what it is, is an effort in the domestic terrorism part of the counterterrorism division to understand the threat that might be coming from people who by a distorted view of their own race believe they have to engage in acts of violence,” Comey said.
Ironically, the FBI’s counterterrorism division assessment made news shortly before a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 others were injured when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters in August of last year during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Despite terrorizing minorities, LGBTQ community members, Jews and Catholics for over a century, committing atrocities designed to induce a state of terror, no white supremacist groups have ever been designated as a terrorist organization.
Comey, the Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard, was joined in a discussion on law enforcement and race by Justin Hansford, executive director of the newly-opened Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center in the Howard University School of Law.
Comey said his life had been affected by issues of race when he was a student at College of William and Mary, the nation’s second oldest college. A friendship with one of few black students on campus had a major impact on his life, he said. Comey said he had almost no interaction with African-Americans early in his life.
“There was only one other black family that lived in my town on my street, the Jacksons,” he said, “almost an entirely white high school. William and Mary just by accident puts me in a suite with another 18-year-old from inner city Philadelphia named Greg Samson, who’s African-American, and our lives couldn’t have been more different,” he said.
Comey stated that his friendship with Samson affected him tremendously.
“It lit a flame in me to understand different people,” he said.
He wrote a series of articles on the experiences of black students and faculty as a campus journalist.
“All of that came together and I decided, ‘You know what, I think I’d be better in seeking justice as a lawyer,’ because that’s where justice is found,” he said.
As Comey and Hanford spoke, protestors demonstrated and chanted outside the university’s historical Founders Library. The protestors were members of HU Resist, a Howard student collation organized to change the campus and the surrounding community.
According to HU Resist member Alexis McKenney, the organization opposes Comey because “he is responsible for the people like Rakem Balogun, formerly known as Christopher Daniels, being targeted and persecuted for ‘black identity extremism.’”
Balogun of Dallas was under surveillance by the FBI for two years before they raided his home and arrested him in December 2017. Items taken from his home included a .38 caliber handgun, an assault rifle and the book, Negroes With Guns by Robert F. Williams. Balogun was indicted on unlawful possession of a firearm.
The organization protested Comey’s speech last September during the university’s annual Convocation ceremony marking the start of a new academic year.
“We thought it important to continue our resistance to Comey, despite the ambivalence of our classmates,” McKenney said, “because at the end of the day, he’s a symbol of institutionalized white supremacy and state oppression.”
Hansford challenged Comey in the discussion and dismissed his assertions that many problems between police and African-Americans are caused by a few “bad apples.”
“It’s not a question of bad apples,” Hanford responded. “It’s a question of bad systems.”
“The FBI has a very challenging history with the black community,” he added, referring to the many years the FBI under director J. Edgar Hoover, spied on, hounded African-American leaders and organizations beginning with Marcus Garvey in the 1920s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in the 1950s and 60s and the Black Panthers in the 1970s.
Comey said he tried to address the FBI’s history of misdeeds regarding African-Americans while director. He said he wanted agents and analysts to study the organization’s history of misconduct, including programs such as Cointelpro, a counterintelligence program used heavily in the 1960s to surveil civil and human rights organizations.
“I tried to make the FBI stare at that history,” he said. “I’m a believer that transparency is to include. I commissioned a course at Quantico, where every new agent and analyst of the FBI studies the history of the FBI, with special emphasis on the FBI’s interaction with Dr. King, and you know that horrific history.”
He further explained that at the end of the course, all the trainees go to the King memorial in the nation’s capital where they are assigned a final project. They must pick something Dr. King said on those two stones and write an essay about how the quote intertwines with the FBI’s values.
Even with those programs, Comey said, his efforts were “probably not enough” to bridge the divide and mistrust between African Americans and the FBI.
Republican National Convention 2016
CLEVELAND – Nearly everywhere you look in downtown Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, there are cops – tall cops, short cops, fat cops, buff cops, young cops and old cops.
There are beat cops, cops on horses, cops in riot gear, cops in neon vests directing traffic and bicycle cops with body cams atop their helmets. There are cops from Illinois and Michigan and California and Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Ky. There are cops from Georgia and Florida and Wisconsin and Delaware and even Maine. In fact, the city asked every state to provide additional law enforcement, and it seems like nearly every state did.
There are noticeably very, very few female or black cops, and most of the black cops are from Cleveland.
Still, the massive law enforcement presence seems to have paid off. There have been some hectic protests, including a flag-burning protest Wednesday that led to 17 arrests and resulted in charges of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.
There have been some tense moments, like the standoff that police broke up between immigration activists and Trump supporters Tuesday on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s equivalent of a Main Street, right at rush hour. And the guys openly carrying assault weapons Monday had many people, especially police, anxious.
Most of the numerous protests that have taken place in downtown Cleveland have been relatively peaceful. The city has not needed the nearly 1,000 jail cells it made available, nor the 20-hour open court it set up to handle offenders.
Make no mistake, though, the protesters are here.
Hanif Phelps, 31, is originally from Cleveland and stood on a downtown corner with a white foam board that read, “ALL LIVES MATTER*” and listed groups like Muslims, “Black folks,” and LGBTQ+ people underneath.
“There is a little bit of divisiveness, and I’m trying to remove that and let people know that there is a movement out there that has some validity,” Phelps said. “But we have to make sure that all the lives matter when we say it. We can’t say ‘All Lives Matter’ and exclude any one of those demographics.”
Phelps said the Black Lives Matter movement is not inherently separatist. He said slogans that include “lives matter” refer to a section of a group of people.
“When we say, ‘cop lives matter,’ we mean good cops,” he said. “When we say, ‘Black lives matter’ we mean the people who aren’t in gangs shooting other black people. You cannot hold law-abiding citizens accountable for criminals.”
Nearly 100 protesters created a “Wall of Trump” Wednesday morning, in response to Trump’s promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.
Various groups from across the country formed a “wall” of cloth sheets painted like bricks that stretched down a block of Prospect Avenue, the closest public access street north of the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is being held.
They chanted and sang “Wall of Trump” and “The walls that they build will tear us apart! They’ll never be as strong as the walls of our heart!”
One of the “wall” protesters was Daryl McElven, who came to the RNC from Vermont. He is with It Takes Roots to Change the System, part of a “people’s caravan” traveling to the RNC and next week’s Democratic National Convention.
“We want to bring people together,” McElven said. “We want to show them what a wall looks like, how inconvenient it is and how ridiculous it is.
He said he was pleased that the protest brought out such a diverse group of supporters.
“We love people of all colors and races here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Angela Hall, 32, from Cleveland, was part of the protest. She said she worries that her elderly father would be sent back to Puerto Rico.
“We’re out here saying that we’re not taking it anymore,” she said. “You’re not going to send immigrants, or anybody for that nature, back over a wall. You’re not putting our African Americans back on boats. You’re not sending our Jews back to Israel or wherever you think they come from. We’re just not taking it anymore.”
Breeanna Usher, 24, is from Los Angeles, but is in Cleveland for now doing her graduate social work at Case Western University. She was with the Hispanic organization Miente.
“We’re basically just out here to have a symbolic wall to wall out the racism and hate and ignorance Trump has been spewing since he started the candidacy,” Usher said. “This is to educate people and really to get other people engaged.”
Amidst the recent shooting deaths of black men by police officers, body cameras have become a new requirement for many law enforcement officers to wear on duty. Howard University News Service Reporter Jacob Bennett talks with Howard students and officials about recent incidents involving officers.