The flip side of police and citizens-this is how it’s done in the ‘hood


Well written, timely, prescient piece which appeared in the Baltimore Sun last year before Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore’s police, the article below chronicles the difficulty Baltimore Police have put it’s citizens and government through as it persecutes its black citizens.  Well worth the time to read

The city has paid about $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police officers brazenly beat up alleged suspects. One hidden cost: The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.

On a cold January afternoon, Jerriel Lyles parked his car in front of the P&J Carry Out on East Monument Street and darted inside to buy some food. After paying for a box of chicken, he noticed a big guy in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap.

“What’s up?” the man said to Lyles. Others, also dressed in jeans and hoodies, blocked the door to the street — making Lyles fear that he would be robbed. Instead, the man identified himself a police officer, frisked Lyles and demanded he sit on the greasy floor. Lyles objected.

“The officer hit me so hard it felt like his radio was in his hand,” Lyles testified about the 2009 incident, after suing Detective David Greene. “The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”

The Baltimore detective offered a different version of events in court, saying that Lyles’ injuries might have resulted from poking himself in the face. He also couldn’t say why officers stopped Lyles, who was not charged with any crime.

But jurors didn’t buy the officer’s explanation. They ruled in Lyles’ favor, and the court ultimately ordered the city to pay him $200,000, the statutory limit in Maryland for most lawsuits against a municipality.

The beating Lyles received from Baltimore police officers — along with the resulting payout from city funds — is part of a disturbing pattern, a six-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun has found.

                                                                     

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.

“These officers taint the whole department when they create these kinds of issues for the city,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “I’m tired of the lawsuits that cost the city millions of dollars by some of these police officers.”

City policies help to shield the scope and impact of beatings from the public, even though Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledges that police brutality was one of the main issues broached by residents in nine recent forums across Baltimore.

The city’s settlement agreements contain a clause that prohibits injured residents from making any public statement — or talking to the news media — about the incidents. And when settlements are placed on the agenda at public meetings involving the mayor and other top officials, the cases are described using excerpts from police reports, with allegations of brutality routinely omitted. State law also helps to shield the details, by barring city officials from discussing internal disciplinary actions against the officers — even when a court has found them at fault.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, a local pastor who has railed against police brutality, was surprised to hear that the city has spent millions to settle police misconduct allegations.

“I am absolutely stunned,” said Bryant, who leads a Northwest Baltimore mega-church. “I had no idea it was this bad. I had no idea we had this volume in this city.”

Among the findings of The Sun’s investigation, which included a review of thousands of court records and interviews with victims, along with audio and video recordings of trials:

Since 2011, the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements related to allegations of civil rights and constitutional violations such as assault, false arrest and false imprisonment, making payouts that ranged up to $500,000. (The statutory cap can be exceeded when there are multiple claims in a lawsuit, and if there is malice the cap may not apply.) In 43 of the lawsuits, taxpayers paid $30,000 or more. In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Many of the lawsuits stemmed from the now-disbanded Violent Crimes Impact Section, which used plainclothes officers to target high-crime areas. Officers frequently wrote in charging documents that they feared for their safety and that residents received the injuries when resisting arrest.

Department officials said some officers were exonerated in internal force investigations, even though jurors and the city awarded thousands of dollars to battered residents in those incidents.

For years, leaders in Baltimore’s Police Department, the nation’s eighth-largest, didn’t track or monitor the number of lawsuits filed against each officer. As a result, city officials were unaware that some officers were the target of as many as five lawsuits.

The Sun’s findings include only lawsuits that have been settled or decided in court; dozens of similar cases are still pending. The city has faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 — and recently budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees, judgments and lawsuits, a $2.5 million increase from fiscal 2014.

“This is not something I take lightly,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I’ve worked hard, very hard, to have a dialogue with the community about how do we build trust and send the message that law enforcement that acts outside of the law will not be tolerated.”

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, who took over in late 2012, has publicly vowed to eliminate misconduct among the city’s 2,800 officers. Other police officials say the department has begun to track such allegations more closely to punish officers in the wrong.

LLOYD FOX
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez leads the bureau tasked with keeping police officers accountable.

“I can’t speak to what was done before, but I can certainly tell you that’s what’s being done now, and we won’t deviate from that,” said Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who joined the agency in January 2013 to lead the new Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau.

Rodriguez, who once worked in Internal Affairs at the Los Angeles Police Department, said the mandate is to provide policing in a professional manner that doesn’t violate constitutional rights.

“We will not let officers get away with any wrongdoing,” Rodriguez said. “It will not be tolerated.”

The department would not allow The Sun to interview officers named in the lawsuits, saying that would violate department policy. Annual base salaries for the officers ranged from $61,000 and $67,000.

But Robert F. Cherry, president of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, cautioned that some people file frivolous lawsuits against officers who work to keep the city safe.

“Our officers are not brutal,” he said. “The trial attorneys and criminal elements want to take advantage of the courts.”

Eighty-seven-year-old Venus Green heard the scream while rocking on her porch on Poplar Grove Street in West Baltimore’s Walbrook neighborhood.

“Grandma, call the ambulance. I been shot,” she thought she heard her grandson say on that morning in July 2007. As he lumbered closer, she spotted blood from a wound in his leg and called 911.

The retired teacher was used to helping others. Green had moved to Baltimore decades earlier from South Carolina after working at R.J. Reynolds and Westinghouse. Once here, she worked at Fort Meade and earned two degrees at Coppin State University.

The mother of two and grandmother of seven dedicated her career to teaching special-education students, but couldn’t sit still in her retirement years. She had two hobbies: going to church and raising foster kids. Dozens of children funneled through her home. They, like her own grandchildren, called her “Grandma Green.”

Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile.

“What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”

“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”

The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it.

He shoved Green against the wall. She hit the wooden floor.

“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”

After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain.

“My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.”

An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent.

The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.

“I am here because of injuries received to my body by a police officer,” Green wrote on stationery stamped with “wish on a star” at the bottom of each page. “I am suffering with pain and at night I can hardly sleep since this incident occurred.”

In June 2010, she sued the officers; an April 2012 settlement required the city to pay her $95,000.

Green died six weeks later of natural causes

Many Baltimoreans who reached similar settlements declined to be interviewed about the alleged police misconduct — with good reason.

A clause in the city’s agreements prohibits any public statement about the incident that triggered the lawsuit. Limitations on “public statements shall include a prohibition in discussing any facts or allegations … with the news media” except to say the lawsuit has been settled, it states.

The penalty for talking? City lawyers could sue to get back as much as half or more of the settlement.

That amount is negotiated in each case, depending on the severity of the allegations, said David Ralph, deputy city solicitor. The amount of money involved is shielded from the public because the clause might never be triggered, he said, adding that in “99.9 percent of the cases it’s never an issue.”

Such “non-disparagement” clauses are common in legal settlements, he noted. “We don’t want to pay taxpayers’ money and then have people saying things that they couldn’t say in court. Some facts are hotly disputed.”

In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Starr Brown, an East Baltimore woman who reached a settlement agreement, wanted to talk about her arrest — an encounter with police that left the pregnant accountant face down, bleeding and bruised, on the sidewalk. (Her baby was unhurt.)

BALTIMORE POLICE
Starr Brown said officers slammed her to the ground on Sept. 18, 2009. She was pregnant.

But Brown, a Morgan State University graduate, said the clause prevented her from sharing details, so the events of Sept. 18, 2009, can only be reconstructed from court transcripts.

Returning home with her young daughter as the sun set, Brown was on the front steps of her brick house when she spotted two girls walking along North Luzerne Avenue.

Suddenly, a group of about 20 girls came from the other direction and attacked the two girls.

Brown, who went into her house to avoid the fighting, watched the beating through a window. Other neighbors called 911, but by the time officers Karen Crisafulli and Andrew Galletti arrived, the attackers had fled.

Brown, who was then 26, could hear the officers yelling at the victims and came outside to urge the officers to chase the girls who had fled. An argument started, and Galletti lunged at her, she later testified in court.

She grabbed the iron railing, but Galletti wrapped his arm around her neck. She said she screamed that she was pregnant, but Galletti responded, “[We] hear it all the time.”

“He comes and grabs my arms,” Brown, who had no criminal record, testified. “He’s like, ‘You’re getting arrested. You’re coming with me.’”

“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face. …

“I was tossed like a rag doll. He had his knee on my back and neck. She had her knee on my back trying to put handcuffs on me.”

The officers arrested her for obstruction, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault. She fought the charges in District Court in March 2010.

The officers minimized the incident and Brown’s injuries, telling the judge that her screams drew a crowd and she refused to go back in her house. Crisafulli said Brown hit the ground after letting go of the railing.

“It was like a sling shot,” Crisafulli testified. “The resistance stopped. We all fell off the porch.”

Brown then kicked and flailed, Crisafulli added, noting that bystanders told the officers that Brown was pregnant. Crisafulli said Brown scratched her with fingernails; Galletti said Brown bit his arm and knuckle.

But the testimony of two witnesses confirmed Brown’s version of events.

“Mrs. Brown was standing up in her doorway,” said neighbor Ruby Lee. “They threw her to the ground, and [Galletti] put his knee in her back.”

The judge acquitted Brown of all criminal charges. She sued in April 2010 and settled the case in March 2011 for $125,000.

Scandals have plagued Baltimore’s Police Department in recent years. Sixteen officers were convicted in a kickback scheme with a towing company, and another was convicted of selling heroin from the Northwest District police station’s parking lot.

When Rawlings-Blake hired Batts in 2012, the mayor talked about Baltimore becoming “the safest big city in America.” Batts earned a reputation of building community engagement during his 30 years of leading departments on the West Coast.

ALGERINA PERNA
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has vowed to eliminate police misconduct.

But ridding the Baltimore agency of misconduct may not be easy. The agency’s strategic plan, released late last year, said discipline “has not always been a priority for the Baltimore Police Department,” and it has been common “for cases in this department to take as many as three years to resolve.” A more recent consultant’s report on the Internal Affairs Division said detectives lack training and often take shortcuts when investigating officers suspected of misconduct.

Many complaints have focused on the Violent Crimes Impact Section, which had more than 260 officers in 2012. City Council members and community activists said those officers used heavy-handed tactics and had no accountability.

In addition to the allegations of excessive force, officers in the unit were accused by prosecutors of lying on a search warrant and working to protect a drug dealer in order to make arrests. One received six months of home detention; the other went to prison for eight years for protecting the drug dealer.

Three other members were charged in 2010 with kidnapping two city teens and leaving one in a Howard County state park without shoes, socks or his cellphone. A jury acquitted two officers of assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment but convicted them of misconduct.

In September 2012, the unit sparked outrage when a detective threw Anthony Anderson, 46, to the ground during a drug arrest. Anderson’s spleen ruptured, and he died a short time later.

The state medical examiner’s office said the death was a homicide caused by blunt force trauma. But Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein declined to bring charges, ruling that the officers did not use excessive force and followed police guidelines. The family filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that three detectives kicked Anderson for several minutes; the case is ongoing.

Batts disbanded the Violent Crimes Impact Section in December 2012 in response to complaints and created the Special Enforcement Section to address spikes in serious crimes. The unit has about 130 officers.

The name change brought a new direction, Rodriguez said. New leaders have been appointed and officers are wearing uniforms that identify them as police.

“It’s not just a philosophical and name change,” he said. “What is acceptable has changed.”

Still, misconduct persists.

This year, other officers have been accused of killing a dog while off-duty in February and of an attempted homicide in April. An officer went to jail in April for 45 days for beating a drug suspect who had broken into his girlfriend’s home. Another officer was arrested in June and charged with slitting a Shar-Pei’s throat while on duty; he has pleaded not guilty.

The Violent Crimes Impact Section detectives who testified in Lyles’ lawsuit — which accused police of hitting him at the P&J Carry Out in East Baltimore — appeared confident on the witness stand as Domenic Iamele, Lyles’ attorney, pressed for answers on the injuries.

Detective Greene told jurors Lyles became hostile in the carryout and tried walking away. Lyles lifted his hands up as Greene tried to stop him, the officer said.

“Did Mr. Lyles touch his face?” Iamele asked.

“I don’t know if Mr. Lyles touched his face,” Greene replied, noting that he blinked and could have missed it. He suggested Lyles injured himself. “That’s the only thing that could’ve happened. I don’t know how he broke the bridge of his nose.”

“You didn’t punch him in the nose?”

“No sir.”

Sgt. Michael Guzman told jurors he didn’t recall being in the store or seeing anything suspicious.

Lyles then told jurors about another incident: Three weeks after his nose was broken, Lt. Christopher Nyberg and Detective Paul Southard stopped him near his apartment on Moravia Park Road.

The officers ordered Lyles to drop his pants and underwear. He did. They told him to squat and cough. He did — out of fear. Lyles testified that an officer then searched his genitals for drugs and rammed a gloved finger in his rectum.

He told jurors the incident wasn’t a “coincidence.” He believed the officers were retaliating because he had complained about his broken nose.

Jurors awarded Lyles $500,000 for the incident at the carryout, but the judge reduced it to $200,000 to comply with a state law that caps damages in suits against municipalities.

The city also paid Lyles $24,000 to settle a separate lawsuit related to the street search.

Today, Lyles, who served probation for credit card theft in 1999, is reluctant to talk about the civil trial.

“I’m afraid of the police,” he said. “I want to speak out, but it could be dangerous. These people are dangerous. Internal Affairs is not like they say they are. I complained. They said it was unsustained.”

Rodney Hill, who took over the Internal Affairs Division in May 2013, confirmed that Lyles’ complaint was not sustained — meaning investigators could not prove it was true. Police said Southard left the force in May 2012, but would not say whether it was related to Lyles’ case, noting that state law prohibits the disclosure of personnel matters. Police would not say whether the other officers were disciplined.

Civil rights abuses can tarnish a police department’s image in any city, experts say. Strained relationships make it difficult for officers to gain trust on the streets — from getting tips to solving crimes to winning taxpayer support to hire more officers.

“All of those things are put in jeopardy,” said David A. Harris, an expert at the University of Pittsburgh Law School on police misconduct and accountability. “People will tend to view [police] as illegitimate. This is a real problem for police departments.”

Good, solid policing requires mutual respect between officers and residents, he added.

Rawlings-Blake acknowledged the importance of that relationship in an interview about the costly settlements. “It is a sacred covenant that each officer makes with members of the community, and when it’s broken, it’s devastating for not just the victim, but it’s devastating for our ability to move forward as a city.”

She said the relationship between the community and police has improved since Batts was hired, noting that residents are providing more tips to Crime Stoppers and making fewer complaints about discourteous officers.

But more than a dozen bystanders who were named in court records or who testified in court declined to talk to The Sun about the arrests and altercations that they witnessed — saying, like Lyles, that they feared retaliation from police.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said police leaders need to cleanse the force of bad officers.

“We have to expedite the process,” Scott said. “We have to fire them. We can’t afford to keep paying these settlements. These folks that are beating people have to go.”

The Sun’s findings come as the nation’s attention has been focused on a white officer’s shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. — an incident that triggered days of violent protests. The officer said he acted in self-defense, but many area residents saw the shooting as a symptom of racially biased policing.

The shooting triggered a nationwide debate on the use of force by police, and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced an investigation of the town’s police department. Published reports noted that five current and one former member of the 53-officer agency faced pending federal lawsuits that claimed they used excessive force.

Such broad inquiries by the Department of Justice’s civil rights division examine whether officers have a history of discrimination or using force beyond standard guidelines. They typically lead to consent decrees and years of court monitoring. Twenty federal probes have started in the past six years, in cities that include Cleveland, New Orleans and Portland.

Attorney A. Dwight Pettit questions why the Department of Justice hasn’t opened an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department.

He has filed scores of lawsuits against officers, and his office gets dozens of calls each week from people alleging police abuse. He says he only takes the cases in which injuries are visible.

“It’s absolutely called for,” Pettit said, noting the long list of settlements and court judgments involving city police. “Baltimore City is so much out of control, the Police Department, in my opinion, warrants federal intervention and investigation.”

Five years after an incident that left her injured, Barbara Floyd still wonders what happened to the officer she said attacked her.

“I believe in justice,” Floyd said, recounting a confrontation with undercover officers who were making a drug sweep in her McElderry Park neighborhood. “That’s what I believe in. I don’t think people should be treated like animals — even guilty ones. But I was an innocent one.”

On a Tuesday afternoon in March 2009, Floyd spotted a crowd of officers and bystanders up the street, her lawsuit stated. She then heard a detective threaten to fire a stun gun at her 20-year-old grandson.

Floyd, who was 58 at the time and without a criminal record, climbed down the four steps of her gray brick rowhouse to usher her grandson away from the drug operation.

After being told to leave, she said she walked home and leaned on a tree. Someone suddenly wrapped an arm around her neck and threw her to the ground.

“I was struggling ’cause I didn’t know who it was,” Floyd recalled in an interview that mirrored her descriptions in court records. “He was trying to grab my arms. He put his knee on my neck. He put another leg in the small of my back. He was grinding my face to the pavement.”

Though she was face down on the sidewalk, she heard Detective Joseph Grossman, a member of the Violent Crimes Impact Section, scream at her to lie down.

Floyd, who is 4-foot-11 and 107 pounds, couldn’t breathe with Grossman on her back. A struggle ensued and Floyd tried standing, but Grossman kept her down while handcuffing her.

Her vision faded.

“After that I thought I was gonna die because I had tunnel vision,” she said in the interview, fighting back tears. “Everything had gotten dark, dark and black.”

When the altercation ended, Floyd had gashes on her forehead, face and knees. Paramedics treated her before she was taken to jail.

But because her blood pressure topped 200, jailers declined to admit her to the Central Booking and Intake Facility, according to court records. Medics rushed her to Mercy Hospital.

After she was released from the hospital, Grossman charged her with resisting arrest and obstruction.

In charging documents, he gave a different account of the incident, accusing Floyd of stepping between officers and her grandson. When officers ordered the grandson to leave, he refused. Floyd then “adopted a hostile and aggressive posture” and tried to pull him away, Grossman wrote. Officers then tried to arrest her, but she tried breaking away and fell face-first to the ground. When officers handcuffed Floyd, she scraped “her forehead on the sidewalk, causing a minor laceration.”

Floyd soon received a letter from Internal Affairs stating that Grossman and another officer were being investigated for misconduct.

Still, Floyd was ashamed to go outside after the melee.

“My face was a mess,” she recalled, her voice dropping as she stared at the street from a kitchen chair. “My hair was gone on that side. I was bruised up. Not only my face, my arms, my legs. My whole body was sore.”

She is still upset that officers ignored her questions that day. “All they do is tell you to shut the hell up.”

Floyd, who reached a $30,000 settlement in 2011, initially declined to discuss her case when The Sun contacted her in May. The next day, she changed her mind and agreed to an interview, even though she fears retaliation from police and city lawyers for speaking out, and has moved out of the city.

Hill, the Internal Affairs chief, said her complaint against Grossman was not sustained. Grossman left the force in July 2012, but officials declined to say why, noting the legal restrictions on releasing personnel records to the public. He joined the Baltimore County Police Department the same month; that agency would not make him available for comment.

Although the city’s settlements and judgments have totaled $5.7 million since 2011, a state law may have saved Baltimore taxpayers millions of dollars. The Local Government Tort Claims Act caps damages against local governments at $200,000 per claim.

Taxpayers in other cities aren’t as lucky. Cleveland and Dallas have paid between $500,000 and more than $1 million to settle individual police misconduct cases.

The Dallas Police Department has paid $6.6 million in 26 settlements and judgments since 2011; the Miami-Dade County department paid $1.8 million over that period in an unspecified number of cases. Both agencies are similar in size to Baltimore’s.

In addition to the settlements and jury awards, Baltimore has paid $5.8 million to outside law firms to defend those lawsuits and others since July 2010.

According to city policy, officials are bound to defend officers as long as they follow departmental guidelines when using force to make arrests. An agreement between the city and police union guarantees that taxpayers will pay court damages in such cases.

Although police officials declined to release individual personnel records, they did discuss the issue in broad terms, saying that from 2012 through July, the department received 3,048 misconduct complaints against officers. Of those, officials sustained 1,203 complaints — 39 percent — meaning investigators could prove the claims were true.

That led to 61 resignations and discipline for more than 850 officers, measures ranging from written reprimands to suspensions.

But in some cases that resulted in settlements or judgments, officers were not disciplined even after they were found liable in court.

Cherry, the union president, said it would be unfair to discipline officers if they were cleared in internal investigations. He stressed that nobody can predict how a jury will decide cases.

“The [officers] who get the most complaints are the ones who are doing their work,” he said. “These may be some of the best officers.”

Salahudeen Abdul-Aziz was awarded $170,000 in 2011 by a Baltimore jury as compensation for a beating by police in West Baltimore’s Upton area. But he remains haunted by the incident and fears the police.

The nightmare began on a warm day in September 2009 as he walked out of a corner store and headed toward Westwood Street, sipping on a cold soda and munching on potato chips.

Abdul-Aziz, then 24, was hurrying back to his aunt’s air-conditioned home. On the way, he joined up with a neighborhood acquaintance.

Officers Robert Stokes and Marvin Gross spotted them leave an alley in a well-known drug area, according to charging documents. As the officers neared, the man with Abdul-Aziz tossed a glass vial with white powder.

Abdul-Aziz was questioned, handcuffed and put in the back of a cruiser as officers quizzed the other man on the curb. As Abdul-Aziz wriggled his hands, trying to adjust his wristwatch, he was yanked out of the car.

The officers slammed him onto the ground and started punching him in the face, two witnesses testified at a 2011 civil trial over police misconduct allegations. One witness said the officers switched positions “probably six times” during the beating, as Gross “hit him five or six times with his fist.”

Abdul-Aziz was helpless. “I was unable to do anything. I was handcuffed,” he testified.

He described a broken nose and facial fracture, along with severe swelling and a hemorrhage in his right eye — injuries that took more than three weeks to heal.

“What was your state of mind that day?” his lawyer asked.

Abdul-Aziz replied, “I thought I was gonna die that day.”

Gross’ account of the incident was different. He said he saw Abdul-Aziz, hands cuffed behind his back, wiggle around in the cruiser. Gross thought Abdul-Aziz was hiding drugs, so he pulled him from the car and told him to open his hands. But Abdul-Aziz tried to head-butt Gross and run, the officer testified.

The officers said they feared for their safety and tackled Abdul-Aziz.

Abdul-Aziz tried getting up, but the officers ordered him to stop. Gross placed a forearm across Abdul-Aziz’s chest and Stokes pinned his legs to the ground, Gross said, adding: “He just refused to stay still.”

“What was Mr. Abdul-Aziz doing that was illegal?” Abdul-Aziz’s lawyer asked.

“He wasn’t doing anything,” Gross replied. “That’s why I conducted a field interview.”

Stokes told jurors he didn’t hit Abdul-Aziz. “I didn’t really do anything except hold his legs down,” Stokes said, adding he didn’t see Abdul-Aziz do anything illegal before the stop.

Abdul-Aziz was vindicated by the court system. After a two-day civil trial in February 2011, jurors awarded him damages. And a judge dismissed criminal charges of resisting arrest, assault, drug possession and disorderly conduct.

Still, Abdul-Aziz, who was found guilty of carrying a firearm in 2005, is upset that despite his complaint, police officials said the two officers were cleared by an internal investigation.

“If I fight on any other job or beat up anybody, I’m terminated,” Abdul-Aziz, 29, said recently in his Baltimore home.

“You beat up a citizen for no reason and had no real probable cause, and you still have your jobs. That’s crazy. These cops still have jobs.”

Police officials say a host of department reforms are underway to address misconduct.

For example, months after taking over, Batts created the Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau, which oversees training, policies and all internal issues, and pushed to eliminate a backlog of more than 130 disciplinary cases.

He moved to toughen trial boards, which hear disciplinary cases after complaints are investigated internally, by changing their makeup. They now consist of two command staff members and a lieutenant instead of a command staff member, a lieutenant and a person of the same rank as the accused. As a result, the rate at which officers are held responsible has jumped from 57 percent to 88 percent, officials say.

A computer system implemented five months ago tracks lawsuits filed against officers, Rodriguez said.

The information is combined with another tracking system in use since 2010. That system tracks matters such as injuries from arrests, citizen complaints and use-of-force reports. It is designed to enable police leaders to intervene with counseling, better supervision, training and, if appropriate, disciplinary action.

“We’re monitoring them where it was not done before,” Rodriguez said, adding that “bugs” are being worked out as the department studies the best national standards to measure officers. Other police agencies, including the Maryland State Police, already use the same system.

Still, the tracking system has shortcomings. For example, police officials acknowledge that it does not include lawsuits that concluded before the agency started tracking them this year.

Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, isn’t surprised that Baltimore lacked a system to track lawsuits. “It has a national reputation of not being a professional and effective department.”

Former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who retired from the department in 2012, declined to be interviewed about the issue, but said through a spokesman that he had worked to eliminate misconduct and improve the agency’s relationship with residents.

“Commissioner Bealefeld was committed to making Baltimore a safer city while building a professional, community-focused and accountable police department,” said the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi.

Asked about investigations into allegations of police brutality, Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein said his office has prosecuted 10 officers for assault and 10 others for less serious offenses since 2011. In some high-profile deaths, officers were not prosecuted because they had only seconds to make decisions, Bernstein said. That’s very different from cases where officers are more deliberate and assault handcuffed suspects, he added.

KIM HAIRSTON
Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein says his office has been tough on police misconduct.

He said that improved training and recruitment, a better discipline process, and greater transparency would enhance the Police Department’s trust with the community.

“It’s a real issue for us in Baltimore,” Bernstein said.

Young, the City Council president, says many African-American residents have an uneasy relationship with the police force.

“Every black male or every African-American in this city are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such,” Young said. “I was stopped myself a couple times, and I am the president of City Council.”

He wants officers trained to communicate better with residents. He’s heard too many complaints about them not allowing people to talk to defend themselves.

“They violate your civil rights and tell you you can’t talk,” Young said.

He added: “[Residents] fear the police more than they fear the drug dealers on the corner.”

 

 

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Police, white gun owners and white privilege How it’s done in the ‘burbs


Amazing story of how an armed white citizen is dealt with by police and the lengths people like him, citizens, go through to show they have “privileges” that ordinary citizens don’t

opencarry640An open carry activist in Madison, Michigan, caused a high school to be placed on lockdown last week, and then began taunting police officers who were called by parents who saw the man marching in front of the school while carrying a loaded shotgun.

The incident occurred last Thursday morning when a man carrying a shotgun and video camera began walking in front of Lamphere High School. As you might expect, police officials said they “received about a million 911 calls” from concerned residents in the neighborhood. The high school was then placed on lockdown for nearly an hour, until police,

“…determined the man was exercising his right to open carry and was not a threat.”

So a man near a school with a shotgun isn’t a threat? Excuse me if I beg to differ, but I happen to be a parent! If a guy is brandishing a gun outside the school my daughter attends, he is most definitely a threat!

The story, however, merely begins with the open carry lugnut and his “right” to have a loaded gun outside a school. The man, who as yet is unidentified—he goes by the YouTube handle Nunya Beeswax—then copped an attitude when the police began to ask him a few questions. An officer is heard asking the man how long he planned to be out in front of the school, to which he replied:

“Oh, the funny thing about you’re asking me a question is, I’m not going to answer it […] Anything I say can be held against me in a court of law, right?”

At this point, the officer tells Mr. Beeswax he has no plans to arrest him, and this only makes him angrier:

“Are you going to shoot me? […] That badge on my chest gives him no more rights than I have. You work for me and the tax payers, right?”

No, the officer says, he merely wants to have a conversation with Beeswax. Beeswax then took his lunacy to the next level, saying:

“No, I’m trying to talk to you, tough guy […] We all know y’all are chompin’ at the bit to put something on me.”

The officers got back into their cars and left Beeswax alone with his shotgun, his camera, and the voices in his head telling him to cause a scene and make a total asshat of  himself.

Even other open carry advocates were offended by the actions of Beeswax. A pro-gun blog entitled “Bearing Arms”posted this message:

“Law enforcement officers were diverted, and school was disrupted, because this ‘gentleman’ insisted on open carrying past a high school, seemingly with the express intent of getting a rise out of authorities and making a public spectacle out of himself.”

I respect the right of Americans to legally possess guns for their personal protection. But the day you start doing so outside a school my child attends, I am going to call you on that action. As the old saying goes: Your rights end where my rights begin.

 

 

Islam and America-Detroit


Islam is not some Johnny come lately; it has a long, colorful and storied history in America. Some of that history can be seen and heard here.

A good ruling-Hutareeites go free


In order as shown: Tina Mae Stone, Joshua Matt...

In order as shown: Tina Mae Stone, Joshua Matthew Stone, David Brian Stone Sr., David Brian Stone Jr., Thomas William Piatek, Michael David Meeks, Kristopher T. Sickles, Joshua Clough, Jacob J. Ward (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I railed against these folks in a post here where I said they were terrorists and should be charged with terrorism.  Instead the federal government charged them with “sedition” and earlier this week all but lost that case.  I agree with the ruling insofar as it apply universally to all who come before U.S. district  judge Victoria Roberts.

Let’s begin with who are the Hutaree militia and what were they charged with.  They call themselves “Christian warriors”….the equivalent of Muslim “jihadists” but without all the baggage that goes along with the term jihadists.  They were charged with seditious conspiracy against the government, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. The indictment said that the Hutaree planned to attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession for the officer or officers they planned to kill, using explosively formed penetrator improvised explosive devices (which under federal law are considered “weapons of mass destruction).  It’s important to note informants were instrumental in bringing the charges against the group…much like what has happened with so many jihadists inspired plots we’ve seen throughout the last decade.

Earlier this week, judge Roberts, a Clinton appointee to the bench by the way, ruled against the government, dismissing the sedition charges, i.e. conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the U.S. and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Other weapons crimes tied to the alleged conspiracies also were dismissed.  Judge Roberts said, ‘statements and exercises do not evince a concrete agreement to forcibly resist the authority of the United States government,…(David Stone’s) diatribes evince nothing more than his own hatred for — perhaps even desire to fight or kill — law enforcement; this is not the same as seditious conspiracy.’  Roberts took the concept of freedom of speech to the very limits of the law and concluded that while what the defendants said was horrible, scary, frightening, absent any defined and definite action to do what they said they wanted to do, they had the right to that speech and  opinion. (You can read more about the acquittals here)  In today’s America that’s an extraordinary position to take, considering the slightest innuendo is enough to get you locked up for life, depending upon your political, religious and/or racial inclinations.  If you looked at the way the trial was conducted it follows so closely with all the other federal prosecutions of people related to terrorism offenses but with a far different outcome.  I assert the difference was this judge, Victoria Roberts got it right; that inspite of the highly inflammable accusations and statements made, free speech is what one is entitled too as long as there is no accompanying illegal action that results from that speech.  It may be a narrow line, but it seems Roberts walked across it successfully when issuing her ruling. I wish more judges had the constitutional fortitude to give such a ruling as Roberts.

Finally a dig at the Tea Party, birthers and  political conservatives.  When Janet Napolitano’s Homeland Security agency first came out with the warning of right wing extremism’s threat to the homeland, those groups who hate Obama came out to vehemently oppose even the idea that some people from their side of the spectrum could, would even do the things that were mentioned in the reports of three years or so ago.  It was simply inconceivable to them that violence and terror could come from any but the halls of Islamic extremism and treachery and any and every conviction along those lines served to underscore their belief.  They also used the birther notion that President Obama was some sort of illegal alien with an Islamic agenda to drive home the points that the Nation was under attack.  Indeed, Hutaree members had some rather strange notions along those lines as well.  The point man for the government’s case against the Hutaree was Eric Holder much maligned too for his suggestions early on that prosecutions of terror related cases should be done by the federal government in federal courts on American soil and not by military tribunes because in America that’s simply what we do.  That very suggestions was enough to also force some to question the administration’s concern for the safety of the Homeland or it’s jaundiced view , as they claim, towards federal prosecution of those who might otherwise be regular, normal American citizens.  In this atmosphere steps judge Roberts, above,  appointed to the bench by a liberal president Bill Clinton who is  almost as despised as Obama. Ms Roberts  went against an equally “liberal” administration headed by a Constitutional lawyer in Barack Obama, with a ruling that was, one could say, strictly constitutionalist.  Kudos to judge Victoria Roberts. I hope others on federal benches across America have the courage to apply the law  as she has  without giving in to fear.

“Rev.” Jones and other Michigan news


We all wish he would go away but psychosis inflates people’s sense of themselves and they just don’t get the hint that no body really wants them around.  Such is the case with media hound, Terry Jones.  You remember him, the guy who wanted to burn Qurans last summer in Florida to protest the building of the  Park51 masjid in New York city, who later reneged on that threat after intervention by some folks down in Florida, Jones’ home state…only to burn a Quran early this year.  Well he’s back and this time he wants to protest radical Islam in front of a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan of all places.  You can read about Jones’ latest escapade on the pages of that excellent blog, Loonwatch here.

Jones is certifiable and I really don’t care what he does, but what I do care about is the reaction the Muslims have to this sad fellow who really should be committed for his sake as well as ours.  For too long, the Muslim community in America has withered under the criticism directed towards them post 911, almost accepting the blame for one of the largest atrocities to happen to our Nation that they, Muslim Americans had nothing to do with.   Instead of asserting their claim to this country in much the same way as others who’ve populated America’s shores, Muslims have been reeling from claims they sponsor or are responsible for terrorism, or harbor terrorists or any of a number of racist and bigoted comments America is known for making towards those who are different than the one spewing the offensive venom and invective.

What Muslims need to do in the face of Jones’ latest threat is to invite him to Michigan, politely disagree with his premise that they are any more responsible for acts of terrorism than he himself is, acknowledge his citizenship rights to free speech and the right to keep and bear arms, thank him for his pledge to honor the citizenship rights of good peaceful Muslims (or whatever paternalistic inane phrase he wants to use to take a side swipe at the Islamic community of America) and assure him that they too will stand outside the mosque in Dearborn and any and every able bodied Muslim adult, male of female, who is legally capable of purchasing and carrying a firearm will assert their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms and to free speech; that they too will respect the rights of people to disagree with them in their act of protest but they have just as much right to that protest as Jones himself.  Should he want to enter their place of worship or talk to one of the worshippers of the mosque he is most welcomed, but that he will be escorted by people who are just as heavily armed as he and who believe as much as he that as American citizens they have nothing to fear from the assertion that their rights are as important to them as his.  They should proclaim that gone are the days when they will answer any more supercilious claims of bigotry and hatred that are thrown in their direction and that rather they proclaim proudly they have just as much right to the rights Jones hold dear for himself as every other American.  In that respect they are brothers with Jones, citizens of the same Republic, but they do not share nor indulge in the demagoguery with him and other Islamophobes that are for now so prevalent, nor do they choose to denigrate  any person who lays claim to the rights of citizenship America gives to those who live legally on her shores.  That is the very least the Muslim citizens of Dearborn should do in the face of the Jones media circus that is headed their way.  Anything less than that is a waste of the US Constitution.

And speaking of the US Constitution, have you heard this news?  It appears Michigan State police are swiping phone data from anyone they stop for a traffic violation!  If you are pulled over in the state of Michigan police for any traffic related offense you will be asked to surrender your cell phone and a device, Cellebrite UFED can then extract a wide variety of data from it including contacts, text messages, deleted text messages, call history, pictures, audio and video recordings, phone details including the phone number and complete memory file dumps on some handsets.  Sounds mighty Orwellian to me.  I’m glad to see the ACLU is on the case claiming such tactics are in violation of 4th amendment protections against unreasonable searches, and  no doubt many an opponent of the Obama administration is secretly happy too that organizations like the ACLU in a time when their ardent political foe is in power are available to fight the encroachment of government on our rights.  Let’s not forget that under the Bush administration the government was given broad powers to conduct searches even without warrants from judges if they thought a criminal act was imminent.  What’s happening in Michigan is even where there is no probable cause law enforcement is implying that if you have nothing to hide you should surrender your phone to them to have all its data transferred in a matter of seconds.  Unless you are black, which means the police will stop you whatever you do or don’t do, my advice is dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s when you’re driving out and about in the state of Michigan if you don’t want your cell phone data in the hands of law enforcement officials.

From Your Neighbor…..perhaps


A Daughter of Detroit, by Najah Bazzy

I was born on April 15 in Downtown Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital on a Christian holiday, Good Friday, to a blue collar Arab Muslim family, while all of America was rushing to the post office to mail their taxes, in a decade called the Sixties that would belong to civil rights, civil strife, old glory, grief, and greatness.

With such a start I can’t pretend to be surprised that a lot of my life has since been shaped and defined by civil rights, human rights, grief and sadness, joy and greatness. My father called me Najah, (it means ‘success’), after an artist named Najah Salam. Salam, the root word of Islam, means ‘peace.’ I learned early in life that a person who aspires to peace would model success, while a person who aspires to success may not always be peaceful. I am a Muslim by birth and by choice, a person who submits her will to God in a collaborative partnership between Creator and Created. The message of Islam in the Holy Qur’an, coupled with the example of the Messenger Muhammed and his holy family’s way of life, play key roles in shaping who I am, what I do, how I do it, and why.

Being a Muslim is not rooted in the rote performance of religious rituals. It is based on living your faith every moment of the day. Islam is cellular to a devout Muslim. It is a blue print for humanity, a blue print I use daily as a guide. I pay reverence to my Lord, and I reference His messengers, including Muhammed, Jesus, Moses, Noah and Abraham. It is, however, the life of Muhammed that has most influenced how I conduct myself and make decisions. He was the most complete of human beings, a mosaic of man and prophet, who taught us how to live a faithful life through his day-to-day example. He was, to paraphrase one of his contemporaries, the living Quran manifested in humanity. For Muslims, he is the divinely inspired messenger whose teaching completes the divine ring of dialogue between humankind and the Creator, beginning with Judaism and ending with Islam.

*

I measure my daily life by my impending death, as did the Prophet Muhammad. For me, he remains a constant reminder of the sacredness of time. He did not waste time. He utilized every moment to be of service to his Creator. For Muslims, Muhammad is the exemplary manifestation of a principled life. He has taught me that each breath is a gift, as is every thought. He has taught me to be efficient.

As a Muslim nurse, I am doubly aware of my physical body and its miracle. How it moves, walks, talks, sees, hears, speaks, and regenerates itself. Muhammad’s prayers and supplications have been handed down to us. Through them, I have learned to thank God for all of these faculties, which allow me to be productive as a human. I might have been created a bird, or an animal that slithers on the floor. I might have been born to crawl on my belly or carry a burden on my back. Instead, I was born a human, with a brain, free will, a heart that loves, and a womb that can bear children. How grateful I am to this Creator, and how worthy He is of my admiration and acknowledgment.

Raising a righteous family has been a primary goal in my life. I sometimes ask myself about the legacy or imprint I want to leave behind. When I depart this life what will my children say about me? I look to Muhammad’s legacy to help me answer these questions. On his deathbed he said, “I leave behind two weighty things, the Holy Quran and my revered Family. And he who holds firm to these two will never go astray; they will meet me at the fountain of abundance in Heaven.” I draw from these words the notion that our legacy lies in our most inspired actions and in our children.

Islam has taught me how to live with a conscious difference. It has taught me to be a nurse of a different kind, one that advocates for the rights of patients to exercise their faith, so that as they lie sick in their hospital beds their faith can play its proper role in their healing or their dying. Islam has taught me to be a daughter of a different kind, often through lessons derived from the life of the Prophet’s glorious daughter, Fatima. The Messenger taught me how to be a parent of a different kind, one that would not favor a son over a daughter, one that would love children and grandchildren. Islam has taught me how to be a wife of a different kind, one who understands that a marriage is a society’s strongest unit, because the family rests on its foundation. Islam and the Prophet have taught me how to exercise modesty as a testimony to the status of women. It has taught me that women are not commodities to be exploited by a billion dollar pornography industry. A woman is precious, valuable. She is not for sale. In all these ways, Islam has taught me how to hold my physical nature back, and move my humanness forward. This is the way I’d like to be remembered. This is the legacy I want to leave my children.

My favorite “watch words” are called the Key to Success. They were written by an unknown author. When I was in junior high school, it was a tradition for the ninth-grade class to pass down the “Key to Success” to upcoming students. It was a large, white key made of hard cardboard wrapped with red ribbon. The words inscribed on the key became a creed for me. It was presented to me as an upcoming class representative, and the following year I presented it to the next class. I quote it here because it expresses the legacy I’d like to leave behind. Its message is the cellular message of Islam.

“She was a success because she lived well, laughed often and loved much. She gained the respect of intelligent people and the love of little children. She filled her niche and accomplished her task whether by a kind gesture, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul. She always looked for the best in others and gave the best she had to give. For mom was a person for whom peace was a noun, verb, adjective, and an article of her faith. Her success was that she was a Muslim, she loved Islam, the faith of peace, and to God she did indeed humbly submit.”

Every person should have a mission and vision, says Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Today, corporate America looks to Mr. Covey to teach principle-centered guidelines to run profitable businesses with integrity. I was introduced to his lessons and philosophy as part of a corporate training seminar for the health care system I worked for. Covey says that to be effective you need to start with the end in mind, as your first guiding principle. His second guiding principle is, Put first things first. I became enthralled with Mr. Covey’s message because it expresses Islam’s code of conduct in plain English. Its value system has been around for 1500 years, (somewhat longer than Mr. Covey). As I listened to the trainers teach the seven habits for success, I thought to myself, How interesting: I grew up with the seven habits rooted in my faith. Using Covey’s frame of reference, the developer of my program is God, the trainer is Muhammed, and the training manual is the Holy Quran. As a nurse in my field, these principles resonate with the tone of who I am now and who I will continue to be.

Through everyday learning experiences like this one, I have come to see that the principles I was taught as a child are principles worth sharing. For a Muslims, to “think with the end in mind” means to strive each day on earth to be worthy of Heaven. “Putting first things first” means giving God first place in life, my family second, and all else will follow. This coordination of priorities is powerful and effective in building a character of peace and success. Islam is indeed a way of life. Muslims believe that everything we do is a form of worship. Even sleep is a form of worship.

*

My first conscious memory, at the age of three-and-a-half, is marked with vivid images I still recall.

My mom was opening the oven to baste the turkey and, as always, I was under foot. I remember the smell, and the hustle of the kitchen laid with gray and red tiled linoleum. I remember my mother in her white shirt and apron, and how pretty I thought she was. Then I heard a sudden scream from the living room and my mom rushed to my father, who stood motionless, crying out loud. Seeing my father cry surprised me; I’m not sure that I understood anything except the sadness. I also recall a few days later, televised pictures of the hearse and seeing a little boy about my size saluting his daddy’s flag draped casket. I remember the death of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

More than pictures, the sadness remains imprinted on my brain. This first impression of grief, I am sure, remains the unconscious base of my deep feelings for the dying and for those they leave behind. Today in my practice as a nurse, I am keenly aware of the power of grief and how it manifests itself in the many patients I see and serve.

I am one of those privileged people whose work permits me to listen often to the war stories of men, women and children. Over the last decade, many of my patients have immigrated from Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. When they relate heart-wrenching stories of losing their homes, their babies, their spouses, their parents, their hope and even their minds, I listen and cry along with them, wondering at our cruelty and hoping that one day mankind will grow up. If it weren’t for my faith in Islam, and my belief in a Judgment Day that will bring justice to oppressors and joy to those oppressed, I would not be able to do my work. It is hard to fathom the mind of a child who has watched a bomb falling on his home. It is difficult to hear elders speak of the black skies over Iraq after the air strikes, the fleece of white sheep turned black by debris, the wanton destruction of life in the years following the Gulf War. Yet with each painful story comes a surrender, an acceptance, and a proof that the human spirit has the capacity to endure somehow, some way. It is one of the aspects of my work that intrigues and attracts me and keeps me coming back.

Certain events in the Prophet Muhammad’s life affirm my own responsibility to the poor, the orphaned, the wayfarer, and even to one’s enemies. I keep these stories close to me.

According to one report, the Prophet had a neighbor, a pagan Meccan with a tribal mentality who hated him. Every night, the man would place his household trash in front of the Prophet’s door to humiliate him. Each morning the Prophet would open his door to leave his home and be greeted with the man’s garbage. In time, however, the neighbor fell ill, and the Prophet knocked at his door and went in to visit him. When the Prophet sat by his bedside, the man was so surprised, he asked, “What would bring you here to see me? Don’t you know I don’t like you?” The Prophet said, “Yes I know, but I am a man of principle, and my faith tells me to take care of my neighbors and to visit the sick. You are my neighbor and you are sick.”

This story has always been dear to me. Through it, I’ve been taught something about humility, grace, and caring for the ill. And because the man was of Jewish descent, the story also teaches me to respect people whose faith differs from mine.

*

One day I was giving a lecture to a group of nurses on caring for Muslim mothers. I was out of state and speaking at a hospital that served a high concentration of Muslim women seeking obstetric services. My lecture was on Women in Islam the first hour, and Care of the Muslim Mother the second hour. I was explaining the ethical code of Islam concerning birthing, death, burial of babies and fetuses, abortion, genetic counseling, grief counseling and other related issues. When the discussion ended, a managing nurse came to me and asked if she could see me privately. She wore a troubled expression. Of course I obliged. When we were alone, she began by asking if I had a strong stomach. Then she invited me to visit their pathology laboratory. As I followed her through the corridors, she unlocked one door after another. I could feel a coolness as we approached the room, and then we entered a typical pathology lab. There the woman raised her hands and gestured to the shelves lining the walls. “Here is our museum of babies,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with them all. I’ve had them on shelves here for years.”

I could see by their dated labels that some of the containers were seven years old. I looked at the white tubs filled with human beings, little bodies of people in formaldehyde, and my eyes welled. Some of the containers held two and three babies settled on top of each other. They ranged in fetal age from 12 weeks to full term. Little hands and feet, little faces and bodies. I thought of the Prophet.

Each day as he left his home, on the way to his Mosque in Medina, he would stop at the cemetery along the way. He would stop on the way and again coming back and say Salaam, the salutation of peace, to the people in their graves.

I asked to be left alone for a while. When the nurse had gone, I began to lift down the containers one by one. I said “Assalamu Aleikum, little ones, from me and your Messengers.” As I looked over the lab file of 220 babies with no names, I thought of the Prophet’s warning to care for the orphaned and those who are homeless and helpless. I wondered what to do and knew from his teaching that Muslims must be buried. But the responsibility, I slowly realized, was not just to bury the Muslims among these babies (of which I found none), but to bury all of them, since Islam concerns itself with everyone.

In the old days in Arabia, before Muhammad became a prophet, there was a widespread practice of burying babies alive- especially baby girls. Later, Muhammad put a stop to this. The Holy Quran contains a verse that says babies buried alive will call out a question on Judgment Day, before God’s eternal tribunal of justice, asking what sin they had committed to warrant being buried alive.

I recall all this now because it taught me two things: The babies in their bottles were orphaned, homeless, helpless. And I was guided.

On another occasion a mother miscarried her fetus, which fell into the toilet.

The mother became so upset that the nurse panicked. I was entering the room to visit the mother and heard the commotion. Luckily, I caught the nurse, who was about to flush the toilet, grabbing her hand. Then I found a sifter and lifted the baby. As we rinsed it, it lay in the palm of my hand, about 10 weeks old. That baby was buried, like the others.

*

When I was about fifteen, I began to assist in the ritual washing of the Muslim women who have died. The first person I attended was my aunt, who passed away suddenly. She was the love of our lives and many of us grieved for her. I remember watching as we wrapped her body with the plain sheets Muslims use to shroud the dead. I recall how we placed a scarf-like head covering over her hair. I remember thinking, How interesting it is, that we are born without clothes but die shrouded. I wondered: Were we born naked and innocent, only to die shrouded, as if to cover up a life of sins? I wasn’t learned in the rites of Islam at 15. I was a practicing young Muslim girl, who observed modesty in my character and clothing, but there was a lot I didn’t understand.

One day a few years later, I came across a book called simply, Muhammed. It was a biography. Near the end, when I reached the part about his death, I wept over the story. How does the world lose an Abraham, a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad? How does the world recover from such a loss? He died in his home, in the arms of his beloved cousin and son-in-law Ali. In my tradition Ali, who was raised by the Prophet, washed, shrouded, and buried the Prophet’s body. Reading about this, I recalled the shrouding of my aunt, and realized that if the Prophet was shrouded, it must teach us something about death: The body is a dignified gift and carrying case, and even in death the genitals should be covered and the body clothed. I began to revise my thought of a few years before, about shrouding and sin, for I realized that Muhammad was a man without sin, yet in death he was shrouded.

From that time on, the circumstances surrounding death became sacred moments for me. Today, I spend many of my working hours helping people through the dying process, the grieving process, and more. I advocate for improved hospice services, and I belong to several coalitions dedicated to treating people with dignity near life’s end.

*

When I was growing up my grandmother lived with us. She was my love and I was hers. We shared the same bedroom. She would tell me stories of the old country and her youth. One day she called me to our room. I was about 20 at the time. . She told me to get a pad and paper and write her last will down. I wasn’t ready to live without my grandmother. I would never be ready. But I sat with her, and as she spoke her wishes, I wrote them down. She asked me to be sure her shroud was white and green, to visit her grave often, to always plant flowers at her grave. She asked me to be sure her daughters and I washed her and to be sure no one other than us saw her. She held me to this Amana or trust, that I would care for the elderly and that I would never as a nurse be harsh with the ill or the elderly. I have until this day lived up to the promise. Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll go on.

The Prophet Muhammed was once brought to a dying man who was suffering so terribly with a lingering illness. The Prophet asked many questions and discovered that this was a man who had been harsh with his mother, and she in turn was unforgiving of him for it. The Prophet went to speak to the mother. “Will you forgive your son? He is suffering because you have not forgiven him for what he has done to you.” The woman replied, “He was too harsh with me, after I gave him all I had in my life.” At this point, the Prophet of God instructed his companions to build a bonfire. And he said to her, “Then push your son into this fire.” She said, “Prophet of God, you ask me to do what I cannot, he is my son.” The Prophet replied, “If he dies without your forgiveness the fire will be his eternal home.” The mother quickly forgave her son, and he died in peace.

I carry these stories with me. They are living lessons of a dynamic faith.

*

This year my mother joined me on the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. It was the second time each of us had performed these sacred rites. Holding her hand, praying next to her, eating with her, and hearing her supplication for her children, as she made her circuit around the holy Ka’ba, are among the peak memories of a lifetime. I looked at my mother often on our trip.

A young person once asked the Prophet, “If my mother and father call me at the same time, to whom should I respond?” the Prophet replied, “Your mother.” “And the second time?” The Prophet replied, “Your mother.” “And the third time?” The Prophet replied,”Your mother.” “And the fourth time?” The Prophet replied, “Your father.”

Although I am 42 years of age, my mother looked after me constantly while we were on the pilgrimage. She tried to feed me and felt concerned about my whereabouts every minute that I was not with her. In short, she worried about me as though I were a baby. I thought, “Yes indeed, all six of her children will always be her babies. Just as all four of my children will always be my babies.” I watched her with sadness in my heart because she was aging, slowing down and, when fatigued, forgetful.

There we were in Mecca, the Prophet’s birthplace, and then Medina, his chosen place of refuge, the two holiest cities in Islam, and I was with my mother. I couldn’t help recalling in those surroundings that the Prophet Muhammed had lost his father soon after his birth, or that he had lost his mother a few years later. I wondered about the trials of a child without parents, how much he must have missed them. He knew what it was to be orphaned. When he called upon his people to care for orphans, he knew first hand the lonely heart of a child without parental love. At the age of seven or so, he came into the protecting arms of his grandfather, Abu Muttalib, but lost him too before long, then passed into the hands of a loving uncle, Abu Talib, who raised him into adulthood. No wonder this safety net, the extended family, remains important in Islam. For me, it is as important as the nuclear family.

In Mecca and Medina, I could feel the presence of this man, this messenger, Muhammed. I could feel his spirit and his blessings in my life. In Mecca when I prayed before the Ka’ba, and again in his Mosque in Medina, I recommitted myself to being the best example of a human being that I can be. I recommitted myself to the principles laid down by this most complete human being: a man and a messenger, a father and husband, an advocate for human rights, founder of a just and fair government. If more people knew his story and the world in which it took place, they would understand that Muhammad liberated women and the voice of the oppressed. He exiled racism, freed slaves, married widows, and protected orphans. Moreover, his message lived after him, and soon united much of the world under the banner of monotheism. Muhammad’s teaching lives on today, attracting new people, revitalizing the lives of those who learn about him. He makes me proud to be a Muslim.

When will and good citizenship convergence you have success


The land of opportunity is better than what we’ve witnessed the last eight years of fear and warmongering and so it is, that ingenuity on the part of a citizen and the will on the part of a businessman combined to render a service to a community and do so successfully in a time of economic turmoil.

University Bank now has an entire subsidiary devoted to financial products that comply with Muslim religious law, or Shariah. It has done nearly $80 million in Islamically approvable “mortgage-alternative” financing for residential and commercial real estate in 15 states.

This past week, while the stock market plunged to its lowest point in a dozen years and close-to-home General Motors teetered near bankruptcy, University Bank recorded one of its best periods ever. It completed 11 home sales, more than twice the weekly average, to observant Muslim customers, and pushed four more closings into next week.

On more than one occasion I have chided Muslim customers who allowed themselves to be debased by a Charlotte, NC bank that really doesn’t want their business. No one should pay anyone else to take their money. So maybe those good citizens of Charlotte can go down to a bank who really wants their business and help make them even more profitable. There’s a lesson to learn from this: people working together can accomplish a lot more for all than one group that wants to humiliate another group because of some false sense of patriotism, citizenship or racial/ethnic arrogance.