Friday, January 9, 2009

Jailing of anti-racist leader spurs fight for justice

By Caleb T. Maupin
Sharon Danann
Published Jan 8, 2009 7:43 PM
A police raid on the Superfly Barber Shop took place on Dec. 24. The shop is owned by Art McKoy, a long-time anti-drug and anti-police-brutality activist. McKoy rents out the barber chairs but is rarely there in person. Cops arrested McKoy and two other men.

McKoy’s supporters cheered his freedom in a meeting on Dec. 30. He told them how he spent Christmas locked up in the East Cleveland jail in what he called “the dungeon”—in solitary confinement. He stated he thought he would be there at least five days.

But on Dec. 24 and 25, McKoy’s supporters flooded the East Cleveland police department with over 200 phone calls. As a result, the police were forced to process McKoy’s paperwork on Dec. 26 so he could be transported to the county jail—the so-called “Justice Center”–to await a bail hearing.

Prosecutors–whom McKoy has loudly criticized for their failure to charge police when they kill Black youth–have charged him with one felony count of permitting drug abuse. However, the charge of allowing drugs to be sold on one’s property is usually charged as a misdemeanor. (Plain Dealer, Dec. 27)

Since the 1970s, Art McKoy has defended the oppressed people of Cleveland. The organization which he leads, Black on Black Crime Inc., started as an organization which sought to prevent violence within the Black community of Cleveland, and it still actively fights for “Peace in the Hood.”

But since its founding, BBCI has also challenged the violence oppressed people suffer at the hands of the cops. McKoy and BBCI have protested the brutality of the local police departments whenever attacks occur, such as in 2005 when 15-year-old Brandon McCloud was fatally shot when Cleveland cops burst into McCloud’s bedroom.

McKoy speaks on WTAM radio each week, calling out the police for their brutality against the oppressed people of Cleveland.

The arrest came as McKoy’s organization is planning a large demonstration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Called “Ring Around the Justice Center,” the demonstration will take place on Jan. 19 at Ontario Street and Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland starting at noon.

The action is being held to protest the racism routinely practiced by the courts in giving statistically higher sentences to people of color; to demand “open discovery” so that defense attorneys have access to all necessary documents; and to demand investigations of both mistreatment of prisoners in the Cuyahoga County jail and malfeasance in the judicial system as a whole.

The Jan. 19 protest is being organized by BBCI, Survivors/Victims of Tragedy, the Carl Stokes Brigade and journalist Kathy Wray Coleman, whose inhumane and illegal treatment in the Justice Center in August 2008 was detailed in a recent BBCI hearing.

History of police killings and abuse

One inspiration for the protest was the March 30 death in the jail of R&B singer Sean Levert, 39. His death, according to the coroner, was due in part to abrupt withdrawal from the prescription anti-anxiety medication Xanax.

Levert turned over 37 Xanax pills to the jail officials when he entered on March 24, but he was denied his medication despite having hours of hallucinations, panic attacks and other symptoms before a fatal heart attack. (Plain Dealer, Nov. 11 and 24)

The police resumed undercover surveillance of McKoy’s barber shop on Dec. 18, the day after a standing-room-only fact-finding hearing at the BBCI offices. The hearing was presided over by retired Judge Sara J. Harper.

Coleman, an investigative journalist who has written on topics such as racial disparities in sentencing, testified under oath about being jailed without charges and treated abusively for five days. When she asked in jail, “Is this what happened to Sean Levert?” they “shot [her] up with something.” Before she passed out, she was forced to remove all her clothes.

In sworn testimony Charles Pearson told how the jail withheld his post-stroke anti-seizure medication and 13 other vital drugs although he became increasingly ill. The nurse offered him Tylenol. He could not even walk to his hearing in front of a judge. Pearson was told to move it—that he was “holding up the line.”

Two days after the BBCI hearing, the jail proposed a change in policy so that prisoners will not have to wait more than 24 hours for prescription anti-anxiety medications. (Plain Dealer, Dec. 19) Other drugs, however, were not addressed.

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