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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Citizens call for redevelopment of strip mall in Atlanta suburb

Citizens listened and posed questions to  politicians and government officials 
at Sprayberry High School Theater.
East Cobb,  Marietta, Ga... A standing-room only crowd filled the Sprayberry High School Theater Wednesday night to hear how local government would keep their community from becoming "Shithole, America" just because a Superior Court judge deemed commercial real estate protected by a quitclaim deed not to be in a dilapidated, ruinous condition. 

The meeting was organized by Sprayberry Crossing Action, a group led by Joe Glancy, Shane Spank, Adrianne Clough, and others. Glancy is an insurance agent with business in Acworth.  The group's Facebook page ( has over 3,800 members, and it is estimated that hundreds of them showed up. Several government officials addressed the crowd, and political candidates also attended the event. The meeting was an example of how social media and persistence can bring the community together to discuss important issues and solve problems.

There was a standing room only crowd at the event.

Large attendance at the meeting could signal that people are afraid their property values will be negatively affected if what they deem "dilapidated" properties are not improved. Others feel a nuisance abatement claim and determination of a rehabilitation zone would bring the property into compliance. Still others think it may be an attempt to rid the area of low rents being paid by small businesses and a way for a large company or group of individuals to get hold of some prime real estate through the courts or eminent domain.

I posed the following questions to organizer Joe Glancy:

WW: Were you surprised at last night's turnout, and what were you hoping to accomplish?
Glancy: I expected a nearly full auditorium.. so maybe just under 400. I underestimated the turnout of many of our senior citizens who are not online on the Facebook group page. We had several members who made an effort to distribute flyers in local neighborhoods to reach those who are not online. It was a strong showing from those individuals. I'm guessing total turnout was somewhere around 600. Hard to know for sure because people were being turned away because they couldn't get in.

WW: What was the outcome of the meeting?

Glancy: I think there are multiple outcomes. 1. The community is better informed, not just on the specifics of the shopping center, but on how the county is addressing it. 2. The county has a better idea of how important this is to the community. In spite of my efforts over the past year, I don't think they could have a full appreciation until they were in an auditorium full of fairly agitated voters.

WW: Do you live near Sprayberry Crossing?

Glancy: Yes, I'm approximately a mile and a half from the shopping center.

WW: How will your actions affect small business owners already renting commercial space in the development and the surrounding area?
Glancy: If our efforts result in the property being redeveloped, those current tenants will be faced with trying to find a shopping center that can offer an economically comparable lease, which won't be easy. That's an undeniable reality and I would have empathy for them. I don't wish that upon them, but the rent on that property is well below what it should be for that neighborhood. It's that way because of the dilapidated state of the property.

Renters at the strip mall pay lease money to Hale Retail Group, a commercial retail and property management company headquartered in Atlanta. According to its website, "Hale Retail Group is a full-service provider of commercial real estate services including marketing, leasing, and property management. Sam Hale, founding principal, has nearly thirty years of experience in the Atlanta real estate market and has established himself as a top producer in the marketing, leasing, and sale of shopping centers."
One tenant in the mall is Vineyard Community Church.
After talking to the company's leasing manager, Adam Hale, by telephone, I emailed the company's president, Sam Hale, the following questions:

1. What is your company's response or written statement?
2. Who is behind Sprayberry Crossing Action group?
3. What needs to be improved at Sprayberry Crossing, and what will be improved?
4. How will community involvement positively affect the area?
5. How will existing renters and affordable commercial rent be affected?

Mr. Hale attended the meeting, according to his son. By press time, I had no response.

After the meeting, we stopped by a mosque in the strip mall as some members were coming out. “This area is pretty busy, so we haven’t had any trouble here,” said one man leaving the location. The Imam there told us, “Some people have complained, saying the homeless and drug dealers are around here, but we haven’t seen any.”

At the meeting, Don Parsons (R) Marietta, District 44, said the commercial real estate in question used to house a thriving Bruno’s grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, a bowling alley and a beauty salon. “Now it’s like driving through Beirut back there,” he said of potholes which are constantly being repaired.

Now a church, a mosque, a thrift store, a barber shop, a dry cleaners and other small businesses are speckled in between vacant properties and two open daycare centers. Close by are a thriving panoply of fast food restaurants, doctors offices, a jewelry store, and a cemetery. 

A school is in the area in question.
It was rumored that Lowe’s wanted to build a new store in this location, but an existing preschool and Montessori school would be negatively affected by traffic. 

District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said, "Incentives need to be given to businesses to move to Sprayberry Crossing.  Sometimes as government, our hands are tied, but this group coming together like this and the support, participation, and involvement that you have, and enthusiasm, really is helping us.  So stay with it, please."

Students used event to sell baked goods to finance educational trip.
One solution is to create an economic incentive to benefit the community, maybe in the form of a tax abatement. One local government official said a five year tax abatement should be given to potential businesses. Another option is to get the courts and the county attorney, Debra Lynn Blair, involved. 
This picture was taken of businesses in mall at 9:30 p.m.
Birrell said that between 2011 and 2017, 85 police calls have been acted upon at this location. Another item talked about was possibly relocating the cemetery on Sandy Plains Road near the mall. "Having a cemetery nearby is not a good excuse for not taking care of the property,” said one of the organizers. 

It is evident that the property owners neither want to get rid of their investment or spend millions to improve it. Although it doesn't look like new developments in Buckhead, it still is a place where small business people can work and earn a living.

Citizens were very attentive at meeting, standing near exit.
Jim Smith, who is running against Birrell, stated in an interview outside the meeting that the property has been an eyesore for almost 20 years, and neighbors and people living around it are tired of it. If he were commissioner, "I would use every method, every law we had, to force them (the owners) to clean it up or demolish it," Smith said.

Sacramento police release information on 29th Street officer-involved killing of unarmed black man

This press release is a summary of the facts known at this time. This is an active investigation.  The information provided in this press release is preliminary and subject to change.  Additional details will be released as they become available.
On Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 9:13 p.m., officers from the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) were dispatched to the 7500 block of 29th Street regarding a subject breaking into vehicles.  The caller stated that the male subject had broken car windows and was now hiding in a backyard.  The caller described the subject as a male, 6’1”, thin, wearing a black hoodie and dark pants.   
SPD Officers arrived on scene at approximately 9:18 p.m.  The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department’s helicopter (STAR) was on scene searching for the suspect as well.  At approximately 9:25 p.m., STAR advised they observed a subject in a backyard and began to direct SPD officers to him.  STAR advised the subject had just picked up a toolbar and broke a window to a residence.  The helicopter then observed the suspect running south, towards the front of the residence, where he stopped and was looking into another car.  STAR continued to update the officers and guided them to the suspect in the rear yard of a residence in the 7500 block of 29th Street.  Officers entered the front yard and observed the suspect along the side of the residence.  The officers gave the suspect commands to stop and show his hands.  The suspect immediately fled from the officers and ran towards the back of the home.
Officers pursued the suspect and located him in the backyard of the residence. The suspect turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him.  The officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them.  Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons striking the suspect multiple times. The involved officers held their position for approximately five minutes, until additional officers arrived.  Officers approached the suspect, handcuffed him and began life saving efforts.   
The suspect was pronounced deceased at the scene by fire personnel.  The identity of the suspect will be released by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office once the next of kin has been notified.
Homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and Crime Scene Investigation Units responded to the scene to begin the officer-involved shooting investigation.  As part of the department’s protocol, this incident is being investigated in conjunction with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office and the City’s Office of Public Safety Accountability. 
The two Sacramento Police Officers involved in this incident have two and four years with the Sacramento Police Department.  However, both have four years prior law enforcement experience with other agencies before joining SPD.  None of the officers involved were injured in this incident.  Per department policy, the officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave. 
This incident falls under the City Council policy on Police Use of Force.  As a result, the video and audio associated with this incident will be released to the public within 30 days.
Sacramento Police Media Relations · (916) 808-0808 ·
The Mission of the Sacramento Police Department is to work in partnership with the Community to
protect life and property, solve neighborhood problems, and enhance the quality of life in our City.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

RESPECT: Tupac Shakur exhibit by Nijel Binns opening in Oakland, Calif.

Oakland, Calif...International Artist/Sculptor Nijel Binns will present his Tupac Shakur maquette sculpture at the opening of the Oakland Museum of California Exhibit on March 24 - August 12. The exhibit is titled RESPECT: Hip-Hop Style & Wisdom.

Binns seeks to find a permanent site in Oakland for a life-sized bronze statue of Tupac Shakur in recognition of Tupac's long standing relationship with many Oakland Hip-Hop artists and his evolution into a global icon.  Long term international projects include the Mother of Humanity(R) AFRICA project which is a gift from the people of the world to the people of Africa.  

Binns says, "It is this 'preservation of legacy' that drives my sculptures, paintings and books.  In truth, however, I am simply continuing a tradition begun long ago in ancient Egypt."  Perhaps award winning writer Alex Haley summed it up best when he said simply...."Find the good and praise it."

Binns was also commissioned to sculpt Michael Jackson, The Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally, John Williams, Stan Lee, Malcolm X, and Marcus Mosiah Garvey. In 1990, Binns received a commission from Motown Records to create the gold plated Maasai Princess bronze sculpture for singer Stevie Wonder.

Additional portrait sculptures includes a wax figure of the late astronaut Colonel Ron McNair for the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, a bust of colonel John C. Robinson for the Aviation Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and the only life-sized bronze sculpture of the famous child actress Shirley Temple for 20th Century Fox Studios.

His largest public monument to date is the 16ft tall, two ton bronze "Mother of Humanity(R) monument.  It is a tribute to peace, a mother's loving-kindness, and the singularity of the human family.  The monument was unveiled on Mother's Day, May 11, 1996 and is permanently installed at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in Watts, CA.

Nijel Binns heads the Los Angeles, CA based sculpting firm Nijart International, LLC and may be contacted at

Friday, March 9, 2018

Terrorizing black men by police continues, even where large estates are located

Road in front of Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. near Rush arrest site.
It took almost seven months for the world to learn that Johnnie Jermaine Rush, 33, was terrorized and could have been killed by police in Asheville, N.C. for allegedly jaywalking.

A disturbing video was released by The Citizen Times, and some community members are asking the police chief to resign. (

Picture of Shiloh community where blacks lived in 1900's and where bodies were removed
to make room for Biltmore Estate

A little history on the place where the incident happened. Asheville is where the famous Biltmore Estate tourist attraction is located and where blacks were disinterred from burial grounds from the estate's rolling lands to make room for roads. George Washington Vanderbilt II built the mansion between 1889 and 1895, and it is the largest privately owned house in the United States.  

Blacks often worked at Biltmore as servants and lived in the basement. There was a school on the estate where whites were taught the arts and blacks were taught how to be cooks and waiters. 

Kitchen at Biltmore Estate

On August 24, 2017, Rush was crossing Biltmore and Short Coxe avenues when he was stopped by police who then cussed him, ran after him, wrestled him to the ground, beat him in the face and head, and tasered him. "You think I'm a punk, and I'm not," one policeman told Rush before threatening to arrest or ticket him for allegedly breaking four laws. Officer Christopher Hickman beat Rush and later resigned in January 2018 before he could be fired, however, at least two other officers were involved in detaining Rush.

Photos taken of buildings leaving Asheville, N.C.
The incident is being investigated by the FBI.

(Photos by Tomi Johnson while touring Biltmore Estate)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Takeaways from Muslim event at Georgia Tech

Atlanta, Ga... "Journey to Justice and True Islam" was held in the Bill Moore Student Success Center on Saturday, sponsored by the Pan-African Ahmadiyya Muslim Association USA. (Disclaimer: some of the opinions expressed were those of individual speakers, not the organization.)

Here is positive information that I gleaned from attending the event.

Dhiya Bhakr

If you really want something, do it yourself.

The history of African Americans is bittersweet... we had almost lost out identity, but then the Pan-African movement began, followed by the civil rights movement.

Malcolm X was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks.

Peace and justice are inseparable.

Marlyn Tillman

School to prison pipeline is based on disciplinary actions and zero tolerance policies. 
Culture competency needs to be addressed. Our children are discriminated against, starting with saying their clothing colors are gang related. As a parent, I had to push back... I had to file a lawsuit.
Organize parents to push back against policies that hamper our kids in school.

Ron Shakir

In Atlanta, of 13,000 roadblocks set up, 8,000 were in black communities. Police departments are not mandated to report certain information. African Americans are targeted and are negatively affected by housing, land and gentrification policies. Concerns of community are not being met because of greed.

Dr. Basyr Rodney
Unite the African peoples of the world for the service of mankind.
Slavery was disruptive to our original home. One group should not be denigrated at the expense of another. We’ve got to change our mentality towards a new reality. Demonetization of black life has occurred. We must change that. We cannot forsake this community, those who have been neglected for so long. Start out in community centers. Work for long term change. Young people are agitated... but they cannot become frustrated. This fight is for the children. Education and knowledge of children must be paramount. Take control of your own lived experience. Look to your own care. Without God, we have no way.
H. Shaquille
Police the community yourselves. Muslims are getting the crime rate down in our own communities. I’m learning my rights. I'm a former gang member, but now I’m Muslim. It’s time for us to stop talking. Time to start doing something.
Sister Khadijah
We must protect children from wrongdoing, and learn about their needs. Prison impacts our families.  We have to be patient. Kids who come out of prison come out with no compassion for others.

Consciousness starts to develop at 4th grade.  Muslim gangs have their own protections from Allah. Read Black's Law Dictionary before you go to prison. Don’t end up perjuring yourself on your taxes and the law gets you for a minor infraction. Enjoin what is right, and refuse what is wrong.

Note: When I asked if Muslims were concerned about racism and its negative effect on humanity, how separate seating for men and women at the event could be construed as sexism, I got this reply:
Separation of sexes comes from the Koran. There is diversity of color, language, and gender differences in human creation which serves a certain purpose for His creation. Separation of sexes is not there for persecution purposes or pridefulness. All creation is equal. Natural attraction can lead to promiscuity.  To know one another, you must know yourself first. The pinnacle is to know God who has created us all. Then all those differences become irrelevant. Men are weak. We are easily distracted. Paradise lies at the feet of our mothers.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Liberty on the line: Jon Rapping's push to educate public defenders

Jon Rapping, co-founder of Gideon's Promise, with Tomi Johnson in Marietta, Ga.
(Disclaimer: I met Attorney Rapping at the Cobb County SCLC Gala on Saturday, February 24 and was introduced to him by Dr. Ben Williams, president of the organization. This article was written after that initial meeting, and the information provided within this article was taken from Rapping's speech at the Gala.)

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.
I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you're mine, I walk the line.

---Johnny Cash

If you are arrested for a crime and can't afford to hire an attorney, and don't have enough money to post bail, Lord help you! 

Even though “poor” US citizens (who are mostly people of color and increasingly women) with no property and little income can probably qualify for a public defender, many lawyers assigned to them are overworked, underpaid, inexperienced, lack relationships with district attorneys and judges, and don't understand the culture of the oppressed. They can't even communicate with their clients.

Suited, uniformed, and robe-cladded representatives of the courts sit unfazed while folks in orange jumpsuits, shackles and handcuffs are shuffled through the halls of justice. Many of the processed just plead guilty, and a life behind bars begins.

Jon Rapping understands this and has created Gideon's Promise to help, a non-profit with a mission to transform America's criminal justice system. 

What a challenge he has...
Rapping says that the "process" of helping the indigent is not fair, and only outrage, compassion, and education can change the system. He says the criminal justice system doesn't see poor people as human beings, and we have not progressed since the 1960's.

Here's one reason why protest is important - people may be incarcerated for over two months without seeing a lawyer. Many judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are not outraged at the system, so injustice continues. They sit silently because an unjust "process" has been normalized.


WW: Why do we need public defenders?

Rapping: Every problem facing marginalized communities is addressed in the criminal justice system.  If you are poor, society criminalizes substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, illiteracy, and poverty generally.  The criminal justice system is where all these problems intersect if you are poor.  Eighty percent of those in the system rely on public defenders.  If they are to have a chance, we need to ensure we build a network of public defenders who have knowledge and skill, but also compassion and empathy.  They must be committed to working with the communities they serve and forcing the system to provide just resolutions.  But far too often, public defenders are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and disrespected.  We care little for these lawyers because we care little for the people they serve.

WW: Would every kid reading Black’s Law Dictionary help them stay out of the criminal justice system, and if so, why?

Rapping: Reading the Black’s Law Dictionary won’t keep kids out of the system.  Kids who end up in the system often end up there because they live in communities that are heavily policed and over-prosecuted.  Knowledge won’t change that.  However, the law has its own language, and it takes expertise to maneuver the system.  Understanding how the system works requires knowing this language.  I certainly recommend that anyone in the system understand what is happening in their case.  But trying to educate yourself on the law is no substitute for having a public defender who has skill, knowledge, resources, and commitment to liberating poor people.

WW: How do you do all the things you do?

Rapping: I am fortunate to be surrounded by an army of people who are tirelessly dedicated to justice.  When you are able to mobilize a movement of people who are talented and committed, things get done.  Over our ten years of building Gideon’s Promise, we have built a network of supporters who help us.  We cannot rely on government to give public defenders the support they need, so we have to build a network that is willing to help.

WW: What do we face as challenges to having an equal justice system?

Rapping: At its root, the challenge is cultural.  We have embraced a narrative that sees some people as “others.”  When you see people as less than human, it is easy to stand by and watch them be treated inhumanely.  We will never have the will to achieve equal justice until we truly see those impacted by the system as members of our community.  Humanizing those who have been dehumanized is our greatest challenge.

WW: Neely Fuller, Jr. has written about the law being one activity which is racist. He said all of us are in prison here. How do we make sure that no one is mistreated and that people who need help get the most constructive help, constructive meaning leading to progress?

Rapping: When we do not get close to people and learn who they are, we tend to define them by stereotypes.  Those stereotypes reflect our worst biases and prejudices.  Race and class are powerful forces in shaping our biases.  The law is racist and classist because it reflects our biases.  We will not treat everyone fairly until we can look past our biases and see them as whole people.  Treat them as we would want our loved ones to be treated.  This requires knowing their stories.   It is why public defenders are so important.  When they are doing their job well, they are learning these stories and making sure those in power know the stories before making decisions about the people they judge.

How can a lawyer making $40k compete with lawyers making $200k in the courtroom?

Rapping: There are lawyers who make $200K who I would never let near anyone I loved whose liberty was on the line.  Being a capable defense lawyer requires empathy.  It requires a commitment to justice.  That does not come along with a big salary.  Don’t get me wrong, we underpay public defenders.  It is because we do not value the liberty of poor people.  But those who do this work do it because of a commitment to our most democratic ideals.  They are hungry for justice.  They turn down higher paying jobs because they believe in what they do. 

They are not only given inadequate salaries, but they are deprived the resources needed to do the job well.  If we truly care about justice for the poor, we will treat public defenders as the most important lawyers in the system – they are.  We would pay them more to keep them from having to leave when they decide to raise families.  We would give them the resources that we would want our own lawyers to have.

WW: Challenging the system sometimes appears to be pointless and hopeless. How do we fight the powers that be?

Rapping: What makes Gideon’s Promise so unique is that not only do we teach public defenders the knowledge and skills they need to be excellent lawyers, but we also give them tools and strategies to resist the pressures to give up.  We give them support and inspiration to sustain their commitment to the work. Fighting an unjust system requires more than skill.  It requires inspiration and support.  That is what the Gideon’s Promise movement gives our public defenders.

WW: How do we start treating people like human beings in the criminal justice system?

Rapping: As I said, we look behind the allegation against them and understand who they are as people.  We understand what brought them into the system and the potential they have if we address those underlying problems.  We ask what we would do for our own children if they faced the same challenges, and we treat them similarly.  It requires wanting to know the person behind the charge.  It requires an advocate to make sure we understand the person behind the charge.  It requires a new breed of public defender.