Friday, June 30, 2017

Being there for Mohamed Bah


Mohamed Bah was a 28 year old immigrant from Guinea. A cab driver. A student. A  devout Muslim. A Harlem neighbor. And a son. His smother was concerned about him and called for emergency medical assistance. She got police instead. And Mohamed was shot dead. The story the police told was simple enough. As usual, they were quickly exonerated 

But aa the case has been examined and studied, stories have unravelled, key pieces of evidence “disappeared” and a critical gun shot, when Mohamed was already incapacitated, came not from below, as in defense, but from above as an execution. Finally, five years later, hearings have begun. In Federal court. 

Part of the tragedy is that these events have become so common, details of any individual case are hard to keep track of. There are almost too many to protest. But there is a more personal connection here. One of our colleagues, Imam Konate, was the leader of Mohamed’s spirit home. And has stood beside his mother, Hawa, throughout the long ordeal. He came to the interfaith circle of the Micah Faith Leaders Table seeking our presence.  And we have joined him in support for Mama Bah. 

To walk the streets of Harlem’s Little Africa with Imam Konate is like walking a neighborhood with my favorite Irish parish priest friend. Imam Konate nods a greeting to all he passes on the street, In the Shabazz Market, he seems to know every vendor by name. During midday prayers, the cab drivers park in a long double line in front of his mosque. Though constantly on the verge of being pushed out by the rising tide of gentrification, the Imam is part of the glue that holds this diaspora of francophone Africa together. 

The Patrick Moynihgan Federal Court House

The Federal Court building looms imposingly over Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. After passing through the airport like security check, I’m surprised to have to surrender my phones well. It makes me feel very anxious to give it up.

I go to the 11th floor and discover the courtroom is already filled to overflowing. They are directing people to an overflow room three floors up where the proceedings are on closed circuit television. I look around the room….there are African Muslims in long flowing robes. And Imam Talib, the dean of African-American Muslim clergy. Women like Debra Almontraser, founder of the Kahlil Gibran Arab culture focus public school until hounded, harassed and harangued by the Post and its allies until the Board of Ed buckled and removed her. Leaders like housing activist Marc Greenberg and Micah’s Peter Heltzel. Other clergy of various denominations. Rev.Dr. Caryn Di Carlo, a former police officer, the passionate Bishop Ray Blanchette.

At the break time, I will see Labor-Religion’s Rabbi Michael Feinberg. And current Muslim lightning rod Linda Sarsour, Palestinian American, organizer of the Women’s march, our go between with the Justice League and the grassroots leadership of Black Lives Matter. Under unrelenting attack by FOX news and the mainstream Jewish establishment. And, sadly, death threats to herself and family. And Muslim women in their robes. The reason for their  presence here is obvious. 

And there are the ubiquitous Revolutionary Communists in their black t-shirts. Leaving aside my puzzlement around the whole “BA”(Bob Avakian) devotion deal, I am fascinated by the Rev Coms.They are always there. Always present. Perhaps that’s why Cornell West will appear with, work with, them. They are disciplined. Committed. And always there. I wish there were a progressive Christian community, not just the usual cadre of progressive clergy, but an identifiable and visible community of witness and presence that like the Rev Coms was always there. In the name of Jesus. Muslims. The progressive clergy cohort collective. And the Rev Coms. Presente. Important for the judge to know we are watching. This case will be watched. 

The wheels of justice grind slow. The day drags on, through the minute details of how the evidence came to be lost and/or damaged and/or…..Well, there was Super Storm Sandy, you know? Well, the officer in charge? Well, retired….

Will there be justice for Mohamed Bah? Even proximate justice? That remains to be seen. We will continue to bear witness. At the least, the Department of Justice has to respond to how people with mental illness are dealt with. A special investigation by the Washington Post showed at least 125 people with symptoms of mental illness killed by police in the first half of 2015. 

And so we watch. And listen. And wait……

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