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.
DEADLY FORCE: Police and the Mentally Ill
Taleah Everett, 20, a woman whose family members said suffers from psychotic episodes, was driving erratically two months ago near Capitol Hill in Washington, when Capitol Police, fearing a possible terrorist act, shot at her car to stop it. She was not injured.
There was a different outcome a few months earlier in New York City. A police sergeant, responding to a 911 call last October about an emotionally disturbed person in a Bronx apartment building, shot and killed Deborah Danner, 66. He said she threatened him with a baseball bat.
The shooting sparked outrage, including from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio, reprimanded the officer and called Danner’s death "tragic" and "unacceptable."
Ironically, police had been called to Danner's home several times before to take her to the hospital during psychiatric episodes, the mayor said, and each
time, she was taken away safely.
There have been similar shootings and deaths during encounters between police and the mentally ill in cities across America. According to a Washington Post analysis, about 1 in 4 people that were fatally shot by police in 2015 were struggling with a mental health issue.
Increasingly, police are finding a large part of their job is dealing with the mentally ill, something for which they are not initially trained.
In fact, parts of the core training police receive that are beneficial in regular street encounters, such as developing “command presence,” can have the opposite effect when dealing with the mentally illness, said Matthew Horace, a CNN law enforcement analyst and former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Consequently, many police departments are putting some or all their officers through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) so officers will be better prepared to deal with mental illness.
Even with the heightened awareness, only 16 percent, or 1 in 6, of the nation’s 18,000 police departments are currently initiating this training, according to Laura Usher, senior manager for criminal justice and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a national organization that lobbies for the mentally ill.
The training, though badly needed, police departments said, is highly encouraged but not mandatory.
Horace that the training isn’t mandatory because it can be expensive and it can be time consuming. Many departments have less than 40 officers, he said.
“There isn’t enough man power to remove officers off the streets and place them in training,” he said. “Another factor is there aren’t enough sufficient funds.”
Washington Officer William Kelly, 47, said he receives approximately five calls a day regarding incidents involving the mentally ill. Many of the people he encounters struggle with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, he said.
Kelly and many other officers in the 4th district in Northwest Washington have undergone 40 hours of CIT, which Kelly said has helped him immensely.
“After taking the class, whenever I receive a call of something of that nature, I now have a better understanding of the situation and can further go with handling the dispute or incident properly,” he said.
The week-long training included virtual scenarios on how to the mentally ill, lectures by experts, site visits, and role playing scenarios, he said.
He has been in countless situations where he had to defuse domestic violence calls with the suspects/victims that were dealing with a mental crisis.
The D.C. Department of Behavioral Health partnered with Washington police after realizing police encounters with people with mental disabilities has become a major issue.
Officer Kyle Mitchell, 40, said he has been a part of the Metropolitan Police Department for over 26 years, and he welcomed the training and the partnership the people in behavioral health.
“The collaboration with the Department of Behavioral Health was probably one of the best things that could’vet happened,” Mitchell said. “People don’t know how many calls we receive day-to-day with situations with people dealing with mental illness, until finally someone said there’s a better way to go about this.”
Mitchell said about 5 percent of his department are CIT certified. Officer Chris Thompson, 32, said the training has given him a sense of awareness,
“I encourage all my fellow colleagues to take part in CIT,” Thompson said. “There have been a lot of cases where we had to refer people for treatment instead of jail. I believe this has saved a lot of people.”
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.
Kappa Alpha Psi Faces Hazing Accusations
MARYLAND – Harry Draughn Jr. filed a lawsuit over $2 million against Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and its member Jesse Stewart Jr. after allegedly being hazed during the fraternity’s spring initiation process.
The lawsuit filed on March 31 claims that Draughn, 45, was assaulted, paddled and beat with a cane by Stewart, who served as the dean of the intake process for the Hyattsville/Landover alumni chapter.
Stewart, 49, is a 21-year member of Prince George’s County Police Department and faces a penalty up to five years in prison on misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges, according to legal documents.
While off duty during the time of the allegations, Stewart’s been suspended from the department while the investigation is underway, according to Chief Mark Magaw.
“When one of our officers is accused of wrongdoing, we take those allegations seriously,” Magaw said in a statement. “The Prince George’s County Police Department holds our officers to high standards, whether they are on or off duty.”
Court documents state the hazing began in February, when Stewart’s garage allegedly became a place of smacking, hitting, caning and paddling Draughn and his line brothers.
Pledges were also brought inside Stewart’s home, where they rubbed lotion on body parts of the off-duty officer as he sat in a kitchen chair, according to the complaint.
Draughn’s suit claims he suffered emotional anguish and humiliation throughout the process, including times when he was allegedly required to do tasks around Stewart’s home in his underwear and rub the belly of Stewart with his bare hands.
“I think it’s just degrading,” Draughn said. “When we signed up for Kappa Alpha Psi, we signed documents saying there wouldn’t be any hazing.”
He was also allegedly asked inappropriate sexual questions by Stewart, who became a member of the Greek organization in 1991 through the Washington D.C. Alumni Chapter.
In September of 2014, the fraternity placed a moratorium on membership intake for both undergraduate and alumni chapters amid hazing issues, though it was lifted in January for graduate chapters.
When they lifted it, they did not change any policies or procedures,” Draughn’s attorney Jimmy Bell said. “That is mind-boggling. You admit that you have a problem and you don’t correct it, and then the very next month my client’s getting hazed.”
Stewart, the Kappa Alpha Psi headquarters in Philadelphia, the Kappa Alpha Psi Grand Polemarch (National President) William “Randy” Bates Jr. did not return phones calls seeking comment.
Draughn alleges that Stewart first hazed him in February when a cane was smacked on his “bottom,” though it was the March 23 incident that caused him to seek help.
“Since the beating on March 23, 2015, Plaintiff has had to sit on a pillow while
driving and is suffering from lower back pain, has not been able to sleep, and has felt depressed.”
Bell claims to have photos of injuries and text messages between Stewart and his client that he says they “can’t wait to show to the jury.”
“We never thought that we were paying $3,000 to join a gang,” he said. “That’s not what we signed up for.”
Draughn proceeded by contacting Bell, who is also the Maryland attorney of a $4 million lawsuit that was filed in January against Kappa Alpha Psi, its Baltimore alumni chapter and several members who participated in allegedly hazing his client Johnny Powell.
Bell is in fact a member of Kappa Alpha Psi himself, and the alleged hazing incidents have led him to litigate two cases that involve suing his own fraternity for millions of dollars. He says he’s still a proud life member and earned his fraternity membership in 1988.
“Here’s the difference between now and then: It is against the law,” he said. “I’m doing what’s right so hopefully they’ll still be around in the next 50 years. It’s better to take a [financial] hit and change your policies than to not exist anymore.”
Bell states he believes the fraternity’s hazing incidents are occurring due to poor leadership by Kappa Alpha Psi’s Grand Polemarch (National President) William “Randy” Bates Jr., saying he’s “responsible for what happened” to his clients.
“The reason that this happened is because the policy they have in place didn’t work,” Bell said on what he views as a lack of quality “supervising” and “training” from the organization.
He mentions that until better measures are put in place by leaders of the organization, injuries, deaths and lawsuits will only continue to happen.
“It’s a social organization,” Bell said. “Nobody should get hurt pledging.”
Washington, DC Police Body Camera Program by Jazmyn Cadogan
The Washington D.C. Police Department is launching a pioneering program that would allow officers to use body cameras in everyday encounters Jazmyn Cadogan has more on the story.