Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a talk or "sermon" by Mr. Abdul Mando, an adjunct instructor at the University of West Florida and imam at the Al-Islam Da'Wah Center on Barrancas Avenue. Mr. Amando's talk was on the innate inner moral compass every person is born with, may lose through the course of his or her life, and regain it. And, while a person may have lost his or her moral compass for a long period, it can be regained in an instant.
For example, he told the attendees, that if you see someone injured and bleeding, you do not have to be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim to know that you should render assistance.
And, so today I want to extend Mr. Amando's talk from an individual's lost moral compass to the Black community in Pensacola in the context of my experiences, either indirect or direct, with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Naples, Italy, respectively. It is not my purpose to single out or scold the Black community in Pensacola; rather, it is to illuminate a very human problem of all of our human communities.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Napoli/Sicilia, Italy
Bosnia-Herzegovina suffered a three-way ethnic-religious civil war as a result of two neighboring countries, Serbia and Croatia, seeking to divide the country and incorporate the parts where its co-ethnics were located into itself. The Muslims of the country, called the Bosniaks, sought to maintain the territorial integrity of a country that had never been divided and had not had a history of sectarian ethnic or religious strife.
The civil war was not driven by religion or ethnic identity--but by the desire of Serbia's and Croatia's leaders for more territory and wealth. Religion became the excuse to cover the political and economic aggrandizement of the ruling class. They each concocted narratives of how the Muslims were threatening annihilation of their fellow ethnic group while also concocting narratives of how the Serbs (Orthodox) threatened genocide against the Croats (Catholics) and vice versa.
All three sides committed ethnic cleaning, that is, using brutal force against unarmed civilians to drive them from their homes, but the Bosnian Serbs committed most of the ethnic cleansing by all accounts.
At the start of the war, I was an intelligence analyst at the U.S. National Intelligence Cell in Naples, Italy, stationed at Allied Forces South (AFSOUTH), a NATO base located in the Bagnoli section.
From the very first press and human rights reports it was clear that the Bosnian Serbs were driving Bosniaks from their homes. But, why were neighbors waking up one morning and killing their neighbors?
They were not. The Bosnian Serb Army (Republika Srpska, actually), were using organized crime gangs from Serbia who were operating under the control of Serbia's Ministry of the Interior (who control all of the country's police) and Serbia's intelligence service.
The Bosnian Serb military would surround a village and send the organized crime gang into the village. The organized crime gang, often times drunk, would force at gun point the Bosnian Serb men, again, often times drunk, to rape their neighbors' wives and daughters in front of the family's male members, physically beat the Bosniak men, and kill those who resisted or who refused to leave their ancestral home.
Using this method, the Bosnian Serb civilian leadership morally implicated the entirety of the Bosnian Serb population and made them lose their inner moral compass. After the war, when the Bosniaks returned to their pre-war homes, they had to live side-by-side with neighbors who had raped, robbed, and murdered them with impunity.
The Bosnian Croats (Catholics) and the Bosniaks (Muslims) jointly participated in ethnically cleansing Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox) from the small town of Stolac in the southwestern portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, very close to the city of Mostar and very close to the Croatian border.
After the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks ethnically cleansed the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosnian Croats ethnically cleansed the Bosniaks from Stolac. Again, it was a brutal operation with a local organized crime gang linked to a much larger organized crime gang operating from West Mostar raping, robbing, killing, and blowing up Bosniak women, men, and homes, respectively.
After the war, given the reputation of this Stolac criminal gang during the war and their continuing efforts to keep the Bosniaks from returning, the Stabilization Force's commander decided that SFOR would begin to install the rule of law in Stolac. I began that intelligence effort as the head of the Intelligence Division's Special Projects branch.
Some in the Bosnian Croat community did regain their inner moral compass during the process.
During the day, the local criminal gang, the local police, and the local branch of the Bosnian Croat intelligence services did all they could to stop the Bosniaks from returning, including stoning buses filled with women and children attempting to visit the graves of their ancestors; beating up Bosniak men in the town; murdering at least one returning Bosniak; intimidating Bosniaks; threatening to burn SFOR soldiers alive for attempting to collect intelligence on the criminal effort; and, the criminal gang linked to the richest employer in Stolac blowing up rebuilt houses by the dozens at night while the Spanish brigade kept watch and collaborated by seeing nothing.
But, SFOR received intelligence reports and anecdotal reports that at night, when it was dark Bosnian Croat neighbors were doing all they could do to help their Bosniak neighbors rebuild their homes. There were remarkable stories of courage and daring, because the penalties could be severe--the loss of a job, the blowing up of your car, or a beating. A police chief I knew from an encounter in West Mostar had his car blown up for his anti-mafia operations.
Interestingly, the Bosniak political leadership in Sarajevo did nothing to help the Bosniaks return to Stolac. While the Bosniak leadership wanted Bosniaks to return to their pre-war homes in the Republika Srpska and other cantons (counties) where Bosnian Croats had expelled Bosniaks, Stolac was not on the list. It was the Bosniak mayor of East Mostar, a fellow Muslim, who defied his political party and helped them return. And, it was an SFOR intelligence effort, a Special Projects unit consisting of Americans, British, Danes, and French who worked for years to see that the right thing was done.
Naples and my ancestral home, Sicilia (Sicily), are the homes of the Camorra, one of the oldest secret criminal societies headquartered in Naples in the Campania region of Italy, and the Costra Nostra ("our thing"), organized crime in Sicilia, respectively. To understand the rotten and vicious nature of the Camorra, one should read the book Gomorrah by the Italian investigative journalist living under a death threat, Roberto Saviano.
In the Spaccanapoli (Spanish) section of Naples lives the Camorra. It is an area in which no American is allowed to live because when the Camorra decides to murder someone, they quietly put the word out in the Neapolitan dialect--a dialect so distinct that native Italian speakers cannot understand it. On the given day at the given hour, windows are shuttered, people leave the streets, and doors are locked. The victim is shot; stores re-open; children come out to play; shoppers come out to shop; lovers stroll hand-in-hand and eat ice cream in a local gelateria; and, women gossip from their upper story windows across the very narrow alleys.
No one living in Spaccanapoli sees anything or hears anything. Fear, driven by real concerns that saying anything to the best anti-mafia force in the world, the Carabinieri, is a death sentence compromises the community's moral compass.
In Sicily, the Costra Nostra had virtually free rein of the island until on May 23, 1992, when the Corleonesi crime family assassinated Giovanni Falcone, an investigating magistrate, by remotely detonating a bomb on the highway his car was traveling on. Falcone's death had been preceded by the gunning down of Carabinieri general with his wife by his side. The general had been sent to Sicily by the national government with orders to crush the mafia. The general's murder outraged Sicilians and Falcone's murder tipped the scales even further into community action.
The Carabinieri flooded Sicily with investigators and military troops. Local Catholic priests began to speak out. Sicilians began organizing counter-mafia civic groups. The newspapers, radio, and television suddenly found their voices. After decades of silence, Sicilians began to talk and slowly but surely the Carabinieri and Italian prosecutors began to make headway against leaders and foot soldiers of the Costra Nostra. Even Costra Nostra members began breaking their vow of silence. Books have been written about how Sicilians reacted.
And so, in America, while we watch and re-watch for the umpteenth time the Godfather trilogy of movies, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos, in Naples and especially in Sicily the mafia is feared and loathed. When I told my Sicilian family that I did counter-mafia operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, they responded, "Bravo, bravo."
The Sicilian case shows that a community can regain its inner moral compass. Sometimes it has to become outraged by a heinous crime. But, it takes a village.
Pensacola and the Moral Compass of the Black Community
To suggest that the Black community in Pensacola has lost its inner moral compass is not to single out the Black community as having a moral defect unique and special to the Black community. The Black community in Pensacola has not, as Sheriff Morgan vociferously believes, "embraced a thug culture."
No, Sheriff David Morgan, the Black community in Pensacola is terrorized by young Black criminals because the Escambia County Sheriff's Office is perceived to be corrupt; its deputies are for sale; that its deputies rape and murder sex workers; its arrests and physical violence against Black folks captured in arrest reports are works of fiction; and, homicide investigators are perceived to be indifferent to the pleas and plights of the Mothers of the Murdered and Silenced.
The inner moral compass of the Black community has been lost in part through fear and in part through indifference.
There is virtually no doubt that members of the Black community know who have been killing sons and husbands in the community.
In at least one case, Black community members believe it is Escambia County Sheriff's Office's "confidential informants," that is, "snitches," who murder with impunity; and, there is the widespread fear that talking to ECSO investigators will get you killed with impunity because the "snitches" doing the killing.
In the case of Miss Rosa Dukes's son, Mr. Broderick Johnson, the second victim at the scene of the crime, Michael Vincent Wells, apparently told investigators that he was wounded in the leg and managed to run away after Mr. Johnson was mortally wounded. That's a plausible story and he's sticking to it. He knows who shot Mr. Johnson but he has refused to say anything. We do know that the ECSO investigator on the case needs one more corroborating eyewitness witness to arrest the killer.
Fear keeps the inner moral compass swinging wildly.
There are undoubtedly witnesses who could help solve the murder of Mr. Blair Amos, the son of Mrs. Lucy Amos. There are also probable witnesses to the murder of Mr. Darrington Lovely, son of Miss Angela Hopkins. There are also probable witnesses to the murder of Mr. Keshwon Stallworth, son of Miss Sheranda Sheard.
All of these Black families and extended families have been terrorized by neighborhood criminals. Fear of retaliation permeates the Black community, just as it does in the Republika Srpska, Stolac, in Napoli, and in Sicilia. This fear and loss of the community's moral compass comes from the grounded community perception that law enforcement is not competent enough, sincere enough, trusted enough, or willing enough to do something about it.
As I have spoken to Black and white pastors in Pensacola one theme emerges: most Black pastors are more interested in collecting money on Sunday from the Black women who are the backbones and sinews of the Black community--women who provide neighborhood leadership, moral guidance, and volunteer their time and effort to help children and improve their neighborhoods.
Black pastors are more interested in spreading the "prosperity gospel"--Reaganism on steroids with its "name it and claim it" philosophy--than taking their congregations into the streets to join the young Black Lives Matters activists.
These very same Black pastors would not even allow their church properties to be used to hold a candlelight vigil for the Mothers of the Murdered and Silenced. That candlelight vigil was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church headed by Dr. Julie Kain, a white pastor. The highly esteemed Reverend H.K. Matthews lent his support and words of comfort to the mothers.
No, the majority of Black pastors are more interested in talking about individual "sin" than taking their congregations door-to-door and asking Black folks to come forward and say what they saw.
Black pastors are more interested in taking money from Sheriff Morgan's campaign slush fund, better known as the "Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund Monies," so they can stand by his side, nod and hum, and give a bigot the Black seal of approval for his re-election photo-ops.
The Mothers of the Murdered and Silenced, those who have and carry and express the inner moral compass of the Black community are ignored by their pastors. Just give them the money on Sunday and be quiet.
This is not a new problem and it is not unique to Pensacola's Black community.
Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," wrote: "One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes, who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of 'somebodiness' that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses" (The Radical King, p. 137).
And, Dr. King wrote of the "white church," those who he believed "would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some of have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows" (p. 140).
Reverend H.K. Matthews, a founding pillar of the early Freedom Movement in Pensacola and the Florida Panhandle in the 1960s and 1970s in his memoir, Victory After the Fall (p. 113), wrote of Black ministers: "In an essay entitled 'The Failure of the Church in Dealing with Social Problems,' I maintained that the church had to lead the civil rights struggle for blacks. I accused many pastors of restricting their messages to the narrow space behind the pulpit and not practicing their words in daily society....I thought that too many blacks, particularly ministers, had become wrapped up in watching out for their own interests. They did not want the boat rocked for themselves, so they kept quiet when it came to racial injustices. But this practice went against the teachings of Christ, and said as much in the column."
In Reverend Matthews' concluding chapter, writing about his perceptions of the Black community in Pensacola (circa 2007), he wrote (p. 314): "In some cases, all blacks have left is the carcass of past victories. We still have a long way to go in having a truly equal society, but blacks must also work together to achieve this goal. Too many African-Americans still have a 'plantation mentality' where they accept their fate and do not question the status quo out of fear of white reprisals....We have to share much of the blame ourselves. A disturbingly high number of blacks tend to sit passively by and say, 'Somebody ought to do something to fight racism' and do nothing to change conditions on their own."
But, Reverend Matthews' remarks can easily be applied and extended to Black witnesses to say something, to com forward, and to help put Black criminals in jail for murder. That is the reason why Reverend Matthews traveled from Alabama to Pensacola to lend his support and voice to the mothers at the candlelight vigil.
March 20, 2015, candlelight vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Church, Pensacola, Florida. Reverend H.K. Matthews with (L-R) Ms. Sheranda Sheard, Ms. Lucinda Martin, and Ms. Rose Dukes.
Dr. Cornel West in his concluding remarks in his remarkable book, Black Prophetic Fire (p. 161-2) wrote that the decline of the "Black prophetic tradition" is due, in part, to the "shift of Black leadership from the voices of social movements...to those of elected officials in the mainstream political system. This shift produces voices that are rarely if ever critical of this system." And, it is due in part to the "culture of raw ambition and instant success that is seductive to most potential leaders and intellectuals."
Black ministers would rather talk about individual-level sin--fornication, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, abortion, homosexuality--and not about systemic racism and not about the need to collectively confront the climate of fear in the Black community generated by Black criminals, some of whom may operate with the protection of Sheriff deputies. The one-time strolls through neighborhoods are nice, but what is need are committed and sustained actions to organize the community; to mobilize the community; to lend support to the street activists of Black Lives Matter.
Tomorrow is Mother's Day. Everybody will be celebrating. Everybody will be thanking their mother for all the support they've given their children.
But, there are some mothers in Pensacola who will have a very difficult time celebrating Mothers Day. They will be suffering silently from the pain and loss none of us can comprehend or understand. They will be grieving for lost sons or lost husbands or lost daughters. Extended families will once again be reminded of their unfathomable loss.
And the vast majority of Black ministers will forget even to mention them, let alone dedicate themselves and their congregations to do anything about them. And the overwhelmingly vast majority of white ministers won't even know they exist.
Who will lead the Black community in regaining its inner moral compass? Which witnesses will step forward to identify a terrorist-murderer?
This problem of a community's lost inner moral compass is not new and it is not unique to the Black community of Pensacola. It is a collective human failure. We are all part of this failure--white, Black, Hispanic, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, and free thinker. None of us are innocent and we all have blood on our hands.