Tuesday, July 28, 2009
John Bior Deng, aged 26, was conducting social research
disguised as a homeless man in Iowa City.
(July 28, Iowa City, IA) Last Friday evening a not so prominent African American Studies Scholar was shot and killed by a White Johnson County Deputy Sheriff. The Black man, John Deng, aged 26, had allegedly stabbed a White pedestrian, John Bohnenkamp, 63 years old. The official reports indicate that Deputy Terry Stotler, a 24 year veteran, was driving by the scene of the alleged altercation between Bohnenkamp and Deng. Witnesses report that they were involved in a heated exchange possibly regarding some bottles that had been broken on the ground after Deng dropped them from a sack. Bohnenkamp was leaving the Hawkeye Hide Away, a bar where he is a well known and liked regular patron when he encountered Deng outside.
Mr. Bohnenkamp had surgery over the weekend to repair a stab wound in his torso and has since been released. Mr. Deng died at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from his gunshot wound.
There have been conflicting reports as to how Mr. Bohnenkamp actually received his stab wound. Some witnesses assert that Deng stabbed him with a knife while others contest that story. In any event there was a verbal altercation between the two men and Deputy Stotler, in his attempt to diffuse the situation, shot Mr. Deng.
While John Deng had the appearance of a vagrant, he was in fact working as an African American Studies Scholar and was engaged in a major study. According to his associates, he had been conducting research about homeless Black men for the past few weeks in Iowa City. He carried with him bottles and cans he collected from the streets and dumpsters and returned them to various stores to collect the refunds. “He made about 25 to 30 dollars a week depending on how hard he worked”, said a close friend who wished to remain anonymous. His associate continued, “John was doing some hard core field research. He decided the only way, as a researcher and a scholar that he could obtain the data he needed, he would have to live as a homeless man.”
Initially the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa City Police Department referred to Mr. Deng as a “transient.” Now that his true identity is known, there is sure to be an outcry from the African American Studies scholars, professors and commentators community. Unfortunately, this incident occurred within the racial shadows cast by the arrest of the Harvard Professor, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates by a White Cambridge (MASS) Police Sergeant, James Crowley. Gates is also an African American Studies Scholar and is regarded by his peers in academia as the most “prominent” and “important” of all the Black scholars in the country.
While Deng did not have the resume’, position and esteem of Professor Gates, he was also well regarded by those who knew him. Some of his research work and writings had received accolades. “Professor Deng has done some truly ground breaking, wind breaking work in the field of African American Studies particularly in the areas of sociology and poverty. He was committed to his research and, sadly, it killed him. This assault on the African American Studies community must stop. We appeal to the President to help stop this senseless abuse on the part of law enforcement.”
Dr. DeWauyne Otis Freeman, the Chairman of the African American Studies Program At South Central West Texas State University who was well acquainted with Deng and had served as his academic adviser while Deng was studying at SCWTSU commented, “John possessed a unique mind and a unique spirit. He had a very promising career ahead of him. The first paper he wrote that was published; ‘The Socio-Economic Impact of Break Dancing’ brought him instant acclaim and respect. His second paper entitled ‘Menthol Cigarettes and Cognac: A Potent Cultural Mix’, was also highly regarded and well received in the African American Studies community. People were sitting up and taking notice of this emerging brilliant scholar.”
Other notables in the African American Studies and Minority Studies departments at other universities and colleges have indeed begun to come forward and speak out on Professor Deng’s behalf. Dr. Cornell West of Princeton University, himself a well known Professional Negro told the New York Times, “I was well acquainted with brother John. Professor Deng and I have met at several seminars and conferences addressing racial issue in America. Professor Deng had done some innovative research to try to uncover the repercussions of having so many liquor stores located in predominantly minority, people of color, lower class, poverty-stricken, drug infested, crime ridden neighborhoods. He was also intrigued with the role malt liquor plays in crack addiction. Frankly, when he told me was was doing research and would be undercover as a Black homeless hobo in Iowa City, I knew he would never get out of there alive. Out there, they like to see themselves as ‘salt of the earth’ decent people but their racism is much more insidious and dangerous. But, John wanted to go out there to that backwater, backwards town. I warned him.”
While not all of the specifics of Professor Deng’s background have been confirmed, it is becoming clearer that his death was a case of mistaken identity. Tavis Smiley an NPR contributor said, “Iowa City is basically lily white. The only Black folks out there are there to play sports at the University or transplants from Chicago drawn to Iowa for its beautiful, open minded, accepting people. It is a color blind society in Iowa City; just about as color blind as Selma Alabama in 1949, just wonderful, sincere people. In a sense, I am not surprised that Professor Deng was living as a bum for academic purposes. He was just that kind of man; that devoted a researcher. He will be missed and we will never know how much he might have contributed to African American Studies and our society and culture as a whole.”
Copyright TBC 2009 © All Rights Reserved
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Police Officer Rodney Lewis of the 104th Precinct in Queens.
What Have You Got To Say About This One, Professor Gates?
Any Thoughts, Mr. President?
(July 26, Ridgewood, Queens, NYC) Shortly before dawn this morning NYPD Officer Rodney Lewis was shot while attempting to subdue an armed ex-con who failed to follow Officer’s instructions. The shooting was in the aftermath of a domestic dispute between a latino transgender woman, Hazel Campana (formerly Robert Campana) her current boyfriend Carlos and her former boyfriend, Edwin Santana. The 40 year old Officer Lewis is expected to make a complete recovery. A single bullet entered his chest via his armpit. The bullet was able to miss Lewis’ protective vest and entered his body through the armhole of his vest.
According to NYPD sources associated with the investigation as well as published accounts, Lewis and his partner, Mark Bublin, had responded to a 911 call reporting a domestic disturbance minutes before 5:00 AM. Hazel Campana reported she had been hit by her boyfriend after she accused him of stealing from her purse. She allegedly also phoned her former boyfriend, Santana, an ex-con, who arrived on the scene with a firearm. The firearm discharged as the Officers struggled with Santana who refused to stop when confronted by the Officers.
Santana is currently under arrest and remains in custody pending further investigation and charges. Carlos remains at large and may have possession of a firearm.
Perhaps the headline on this post would not be as it is if not for the recent incident involving the Harvard African American Studies Professor, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, who is Black, and his arrest by Sergeant James Crowley who is White. This event has elevated racial tensions and its fallout has even reached the White House. According to a spokesman for President Obama, he is expected to have a meeting with Crowley and Gates at the White House in the near future.
DON’T SKIP THE FACTS OR
OPEN THE GATES OF RACIAL ANGER
The most newsworthy and important aspect of the event this morning in Queens is that a New York City Police Officer was shot in the line of duty. He and his partner were responding to a call about a domestic disturbance, often one of the most hazardous environments an Officer can enter. It is not relevant that the parties involved are a transgender woman and two Latino men who have or had been involved with her romantically. Officer Lewis is African American . These are just salacious details that have an almost comedic element were they not just the actual facts. The race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of any of the involved parties played no role in what transpired. The Officers were carrying out there duties, protecting the public, intervening in a violent domestic dispute with probably little or no thought about race or anything other than the circumstances of the moment. Scenarios similar to this play out daily in the streets of our cities and towns. Call 911 and someone will respond. That someone will be a public servant willing to confront hazards and perils unknown no matter their race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. These are but sidebar details to the larger situation; they typically do not drive cause and effect, they merely are what they are.
It is so very easy to loose sight of the larger whole, the bigger picture when trivialities that should be non issues come to dominate a story and fuel a debate. Much has been written and said about the Gates’ arrest and all its phoney racial motivations and reactions that the real issue, the things that really matter have become obscured in the torrent of opinions and blather.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before a “racially charged” episode were to occur and our first African American President was forced to provide an opinion or render a judgment. In his remarks that concluded with his judgment that the Cambridge Police acting “stupidly” he entered a minefield he could easily have navigated more deftly. But, he spoke his true feelings at the time. A man of his position and intelligence, this man in particular, does not carelessly or cavalierly utter a word. His remarks are a clear and powerful indication as to just how far we have to go before the Black and White conundrum’s tentacles weaving through the underbelly of our society can be extricated or at least mitigated.