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Lessons from Howard Beach: 25 Years Later©

by Alton H. Maddox, Jr.

If it had not been for Chris Griffith and the late Sonny Carson, I would not be writing about Howard Beach twenty-five years later. Chris called me early on December 19, 1986. His brother, Michael Griffith, had just been murdered by a white lynch mob in Howard Beach and I was the only person in New York who, according to him, could secure any semblance of justice for the Griffith family.

I recognize that many persons in New York could have secured media attention for the family but the family was seeking retributive justice and not simply distributive justice and media attention. Retributive justice requires that you put your own career on the line. My career had been on the line ever since I landed in New York. It had been a bumpy ride with no co-pilot in militaristic struggle and no parachute. I had to put Chris on hold.

The following Monday morning I received a wake-up call from Sonny Carson. I had received a diplomatic call from him on the previous Sunday. Sonny’s modus operandi was to let a civil call precede an implied threat. Cedric Sandiford had been with Michael Griffith. His face had undergone a makeover. He was unable to see through the bandages over his eyes.

Members of the NYPD had unconstitutionally seized Cedric to view line-ups of suspects at a local police precinct in Queens. District Attorney John Santucci had hoped to conduct constitutionally-flawed line-ups to the benefit of the white suspects and to the detriment of Blacks.

Time was of the essence. There would be consequences, however. I rushed to the precinct and stopped the line-up. This was “obstruction of justice” according to white elected officials. A conviction for obstruction of justice means automatic disbarment and a prison term. This is the price that you must pay for demanding retributive justice.

Later, New York would conduct a preliminary hearing. This is rare in New York. It was designed to be a public spectacle. Sandiford had limited vision. I went to the Queens courthouse and announced during the hearing that Cedric would not be participating in a kangaroo hearing. I would also demand a special prosecutor. The “Fourth Estate” went nuts.

This was the final nail in my coffin. New York would snatch its meal ticket from any Black lawyer who would elevate his client over a racist criminal justice system. This has been the case since about 1850. Stated differently, whites will never finance our liberation. During the Civil War, Black soldiers had to put their own lives on the line to save the Union.

When any client has been harmed or is in legal trouble, all lawyers, under English jurisprudence, are required to cite the “Founding Fathers” as authorities. This reliance on white authorities to support a proposition shortchanges Blacks in the judicial system. The leading authority against Blacks is Chief Justice Roger Taney.

For me, this misplaced reliance on a racist would amount to legal malpractice. If a descendant of enslaved Africans were a “person” within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, any search for justice would land an attorney in deep trouble with a disciplinary committee. It is safer for Blacks to see each other as three-fifths of a person. Compare Judge Evelyn Laporte’s bail decision in People v. Lamont Pride.

My only decision in a courtroom was to choose a citation of authorities. In Howard Beach, my citation of authorities included, but was not limited to, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Irene Morgan, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali. In other words, I would not be cooperating with evil. For any Black attorney, this is a ground for disbarment.

New York responded. Gov. Mario Cuomo attacked me publicly. This attack was followed by attacks from Mayor Ed Koch, Police Commissioner Ben Ward and Black selected officials. There would also be a defamation lawsuit by the court officers association and a disciplinary investigation which resulted in a disciplinary penalty. This penalty laid the groundwork for my disbarment three years later. Two strikes and you are out.

Black people act strangely when you are attacked by whites. Virtually, no Black activist in the Black community will touch me with a ten-foot pole. Every Black-oriented commercial radio station has banned me from its airwaves. I seldom appeared on “Like It Is” and when I did, the subject of Tawana Brawley was a no-no. Blacks will punish you for following your revered ancestors.

If you head an organization or is the architect of a political party not controlled by whites, Blacks will make sure that you remain in a financial hole. Malcolm X knew Blacks in New York very well. New York City was his frame of reference. “We sick boss?” New York’s slave code still continues to manufacture “Negroes”.

Important lessons were learned from Howard Beach; that is, the power of critical thinking combined with black activism. This combination does yield some positive results. Another example is “Bensonhurst”. The common thread is that whites had to submit to protracted bargaining preceded by a positive demand and a valid argument. These elements were missing in Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell.

A drawback in Black thinking is the inability to appreciate concepts. This follows from the “Mis-education of the Negro”. Three fundamental subjects are not taught in public schools: philosophy, logic (critical thinking) and ethics. Whites adhere to a philosophy. Marcus Garvey was imprisoned and deported because he also practiced a philosophy.

In Howard Beach, for example, Blacks described an event as a racially-motivated murder. This was simply a description of an event. No one raised the applicable concept: “the right to travel”. The inability to travel freely is not only a “badge of slavery” but it also violates the civil rights statutes enacted during Reconstruction.

The focus should have never been on Michael Griffith or Cedric Sandiford. Three years later, the focus was on Yusuf Hawkins and, again, not on the “right to travel”. Nonetheless, this inability to travel freely would gradually go into submission after Bensonhurst. The right to travel had been questioned in New York before Howard Beach. This explains the Black stance in Howard Beach.

The failure of Blacks to understand concepts has resurfaced in the demise of “Like It Is”. Black activists have mislabeled the issue as the hiring of a host for “Here and Now”. Blacks have lost public affairs programming and not simply “Like It Is”. The first step is to revive public affairs programming. Everyone can agree to a host. We should refrain from putting the cart before the horse.

The demand for a special prosecutor was appropriate in Howard Beach. John Santucci was carrying too much baggage. My demand for a special prosecutor in Howard Beach also set the stage for “two strikes and you are out”. This was in the suspension order dated May 21, 1990. The second offense was my refusal to violate the attorney-client privileges of Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton. This is worse than double jeopardy. See Dred Scott.

To make matters worse, the second offense arose out of a bill of attainder. In other words, members of the New York Legislature and not any private person was the complainant. A bill of attainder or a bill of pains and penalties is specifically outlawed under the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, Blacks have no interest in understanding the “Supreme Law”.

Dr. Khallid Muhammad was also the victim of a bill of attainder and I am probably the only Black person who recognized the constitutional issue. Gov. David Paterson failed to see it. No one could have criticized him if he had pardoned me. Even a guilty person is entitled to a pardon. I am innocent, however. The ball is now in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s court. His father caused these injustices. These injustices should be corrected on December 25, 2011 (Christmas) or December 26, 2011 (Kwanzaa).

Too honest for the White Press and too black for much of today’s Black Press; bullet columnist Alton Maddox upsets the same people and status quo as he did as an uncompromising Defense Attorney. He is also a founding member of the Freedom Party. Please sign his Petition to save “Like It Is.” Contact him at c/o UAM P.O. BOX 35 BRONX, NY 10471

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