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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Miss Rosa Dukes: The Pain of a Community


Mr. Michael Vincent Wells--a 29-year old Pensacola man who was wounded in May 2011 on Diego Circle in Pensacola and witnessed at the same time (May 16, 2011) the murder of Mr. Brock Johnson, son of Miss Rosa Dukes--was arrested on August 25, 2015, in Foley, Alabama, on drug trafficking charges.  According to the Foley Police Department's Facebook page announcing his arrest, an investigation of a stolen cellphone lead police to Mr. Wells.  Mr. Wells was found to have 334 grams (about 11.5 ounces) of "spice," a Class I narcotic, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and some cocaine.  Trafficking, according to the Foley Police, is any amount greater than 56 grams (about 1.93 ounces).  Mr. Wells is being held at the Baldwin County Corrections Center on $1 million bond.  Hopefully, he will remember who shot him and who murdered Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Michael Vincent Wells, Foley Police Department mugshot, August 25, 2015

Mr. Broderick Johnson

L-R:  Miss Cindy Martin, Miss Rosa Dukes, unknown woman, at Mr. Brock Johnson's memorial in Westernmark Park (formerly Diego Circle) in Montclair.

On August 31, 2015, I interviewed Miss Rosa Dukes in her home.  She was in the middle of packing her belongings and trying to locate another home.  She was unaware at the time that Mr. Wells had been arrested.  Unfortunately, her story is so heartbreakingly similar, for example, to the story that Miss Angela Hopkins told me regarding the unsolved murder of her son Mr. Darrington 'Tooley Fresh' Lovely; or the story of Miss Lucy Amos and the unsolved murder of her son Mr. Blair Amos; or, the story of the unsolved murder of Mr. Keshwon Stallworth, son of Miss Sheranda Sheard.

And so, Miss Rosa Dukes' story while having some unique features--every person is different--is another retelling of the never ending pain and agony and anger and sorrow and longing that pulses throughout the Black community's extended family networks.  While the tragedy of losing a son or daughter is intensely personal, and the depth of the heartache beyond human comprehension for someone who has not experienced it, it is nonetheless a tragedy that affects dozens of people within one family network, and courses through dozens and dozens of family networks in the community.  The reservoir of pain held back by sturdy hearts and faith in God is a silent killer in the Black community; a pain made invisible to many members of the Black community through the failure of elected and unelected community leaders--Black and white--to discuss the murders and to remember the tragedies.

Hence, Miss Cindy Martin, Commissioner Lumon May, Reverend H.K. Matthews, Reverend Dr. Julie Kain, and Mr. Ellison Bennett, continue to hold candlelight vigils to not only remember the mothers and the families of those left behind, but to ask the community not only to remember these heartbroken mothers in their prayers, but to come forward with concrete information that could lead to the arrest of killers of dreams and futures.

While we emphasize the mothers and their tragedies, and search for individual perpetrators, we cannot lose our focus and shift our attention away from the larger structural forces that creates criminal behaviors in the Black community.  Adam Hudson, writing at the progressive website AlterNet, observed that the:

"roots of crime in the black community are structural.  Crime is caused by socioeconomic factors rather than cultural pathologies or inherent criminality, despite what peddlers of the black criminality myth would have you believe.  Many studies have shown that poverty and inequality contribute greatly to crime and other social ills.  Continuously high unemployment, entrenched poverty, bleak educational opportunities, racial segregation, economic inequality, generations of trauma, and societal neglect create the cycles of desperation that provide kindling for pervasive crime in black communities."

Brittney Cooper, a professor of Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, recently wrote that religion also blinds us (mainly white folks) to the ideological prism that allows these structural factors to be perpetuated generation after generation.  According to Professor Cooper, herself a former evangelical Christian who considers herself still a Christian:

"Contemporary evangelicalism still refuses to grapple in any serious way with the extent to which it serves as the wingman for white supremacy.  Yes, some evangelical pastors write and talk about the 'sin of racism.'  They discuss it as though racism is a problem of individually sinful attitudes. They act as though racism will be solved if individual white people learn to love individual black people and vice versa.  Such teachings stay away from critiquing failing school systems or culturally incompetent teachers, or the school to prison pipeline, or the effects of white privilege on the ability of Black people to get jobs, or the way that Republican social policy reinforces all these systems of power."

Thus, while the perpetrators of these murders are fully responsible for their own actions, in a very real sense these unsolved murders of young Black men should be considered the byproduct, intentional or not, of the school-to-prison pipeline and larger social forces that have historically held the Black community at the bottom of the social pyramid.

And, the other theme that comes through the interview with Miss Rosa Dukes is the feeling of being abandoned and neglected by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.  She complained that the second investigator that had been assigned to the case, Deputy Steven Hall, never returned her phone calls and did not keep her informed.  He was later taken off her case.  In fact, I was present when she called the ECSCO's Cold Case Unit when she learned that no investigator was assigned to her son's case.  Only a few days earlier she had discovered that Deputy Hall was not working her case.  She told me that this lack of contact bred mistrust and more hurt feelings.  However, a couple of days later someone from the Cold Case Unit did talk to her.

Miss Rosa Dukes' Story

Miss Rosa told me the first investigator, Deputy Phillip Martin, had returned her phone calls and kept her informed of developments.  Deputy Hall visited her house once sometime in 2015, but had had no contact with him since.  The reason Deputy Hall visited was because Miss Rosa had called him to say that after the candlelight vigil on March 20, 2015, at Reverend Kain's Unitarian Universalist Church someone had come forward to indicate that they knew someone who might have seen something.

In fact, she did not find out that Deputy Hall had left the case until August 28, 2015, when she called the ECSO's Cold Case Unit.  Deputy Hall apparently still works in the Cold Case Unit.  She told me that Deputy Hall had never returned any of her 11 phone calls, seemed uninterested in her son's case, and "has no heart.  Just empty promises of him calling back."

Miss Rosa told me that night her son was murdered was actually a special night in her memory.  Before he had left the house for a final time he had picked up his son, Little Brock and another little boy, Zion, and gave them kisses.  He also kissed Messiah, a little girl, and put all the children to bed.

Before Brock left the house he received a phone call.  She thought the phone call was odd.  Brock responded to the call with "Hello."  Silence on the other end.  Brock asked a little more aggressively, "Hello."  "Who"?  Then Brock said, "Hey man, I ain't heard from you in a long time."

Brock kissed his mom goodbye.  Brock told her, "You're the best mom in the whole wide world."  She told him, "You're the best son in the whole wide world."  Miss Rosa went to sleep.  She awoke to a never-ending nightmare.

Miss Rosa told me that the phrase "Hey man" could have been about a female.  She believes it was probably a female who called him late at night because he would not have left the house to see a man.  He would have left for a female.  She told me that the ECSO should know the phone number that called Brock because his phone is still in evidence.

The Beasley's from Diego Circle came to Miss Rosa's house on Nantes Way, a distance of about six-tenths of a mile--easy walking distance along Montpellier Drive.  She drove to Diego Circle, now Westernmark Park.  She saw blue lights and yellow tape.  The deputies stopped her at the tape.  She told them the name of her son.  They looked at her funny.  "I knew it was my child.  I turned around.  I said, 'Lord God let me know if its my child.'  And I just floated under the tape and saw my son and prayed to God to save his soul.  My son was just laying there.  I couldn't be there to help my child.  All I could do was cry and ask the Lord to help me.  It was a long time before the ambulance came.  They took me to the hospital and my blood pressure was up to 299.  I should have died.  But the Lord kept me alive.  The police never covered his body with a sheet.  Just left him there.  I can still remember that day.  It's always there."

Every mother I have spoken to has told me that they do not want another family to experience this tragedy.

Miss Rosa told me, "I just don't want to see this happen to anyone else.  Whenever I hear about another murder, I feel very badly for the family.  No one knows what's like to lose a child."

"All I want is justice.  He has a family that loves him.  He's got a son.  Why did they have to take his life?  Why not just fight and let the best man win?"

"This violence has got to stop.  Kids need to get into church.  They are living a gangster life instead of a Christian life.  You don't want to see this happen to your family, your brother.  Why take a life?  Why use guns?"

"I don't understand why no one hasn't said anything.  Diego Circle never sleeps.  There is more than one person who saw.  Michael Wells knows.  I suspect he was part of it."

"I really miss him at holidays.  His son, Little Brock, wonders why his daddy was killed.  His son, my grandson, cries for his daddy.  It hurts me.  [Very long pause].  It hurts.  It hurts."

"I can't hear that boy calling me on the phone.  I can't hear him calling my name.  I can't see his smile.  They crushed his life.  They crushed his dream of seeing his son grow up.  They took the sunshine out of his family.  He always kept the peace.  He made sure children went to school.  He looked after older people in the neighborhood."

Miss Rosa's Appeal

"Show your homeboy loyalty by saying what happened.  Show loyalty to your homeboy."

"If it was a member of your family, you'd want somebody to come forward.  A lot of cases would be solved if people came forward."

"There are ways to do that.  Call Crime Stoppers.  Just drop a postcard.  I just want justice.  I'm going to keep telling my story.  What happened to my child could happen to your child.  You never know what is going to happen."

"We need to stop the violence.  We have younger children coming up.  We have to save them."

"Kids have to have love in the family.  Listen to them.  Don't let them get gangsta love from the streetss.  We've got to stop this murder."

"Tell what you know.  We've got to solve these cold cases."

"I heard people saying it wasn't supposed to happen that way.  Why is Michael Wells still walking around?  Michael Wells won't say what happened."

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