By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, May 7, 2009
Like other Maryland prison inmates indicted in the Black Guerilla Family prison-gang conspiracy, Eric Marcell Brown hasn’t yet had his first court appearance on the charges, so he remains an unseen player in the case. But the wire-tap investigation of his activities from prison, which resulted in the Apr. 8 grand jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, shows how the government views Brown: as the BGF’s top leader in Maryland, orchestrating its violent, corrupting operations with funds from selling drugs and The Black Book, his instructional tome about the BGF movement.
Brown doesn’t consider the BGF a “gang” at all, but an “organization”–a distinction to which The Black Book devotes a full chapter. The book’s 2008 publication put Brown’s abilities on display, revealing a knack for marketing and leadership. The law enforcers who came after Brown say his publishing venture has been successful, noting in court documents that upwards of 900 copies were sold, with proceeds going back to the organization. If so, The Black Book, which prescribes self-generated economic empowerment for blacks, especially ex-offenders, is a good example of what the book seeks to advance.
Yet the book also condemns drug dealing as a form of “genocide” and “chemical warfare,” so if the government is right about Brown, then he’s in direct conflict with his own tenets. The Black Book asserts that Brown, who at 40 years old is 15 years into a 25-year sentence on drug-dealing charges, has undergone a “transition” from his old ways, and encourages others to follow. Court documents filed in the BGF case make a farce of this assertion, but, as the government’s case against Brown is tested in court, a clearer picture may emerge of how he measures up to The Black Book‘s ideals.
According to court documents, one of the government’s informants in the BGF investigation said “The Black Book is a ploy by Brown to make BGF in Maryland appear to be a legitimate organization and not involved in criminal activity.” In fact, the informant explained, “Brown is a drug trafficker” and “BGF funds its operations primarily by selling drugs”-though The Black Book, too, is “making money.”
Brown’s cell-phone conversations were intercepted by investigators for months, and in the process, chatter was picked up that seemed to confirm that Brown was involved in drug dealing, along with violence, armed robbery, smuggling, and extortion. Some of the intercepted discussions, as recounted in the court records, were clear and easily interpreted. Others were vague, relying on investigators’ training and experience to conclude that nefarious doings were afoot.
One of the recorded conversations showcases Brown’s grasp of the rhetoric of radical change. “Listen, man, we are on the verge of very big things, man,” Brown said during a three-way call last November with two other BGF members, who were inmates in different Maryland prisons. “This positive movement that we are embarking upon now, right, is moving at a rapid pace, right. It’s happening on almost every location” in the prison system. “Revolution is the only solution, brother,” he exhorted.
Investigators contend that Brown’s hold on the reins of the BGF took it further, so that it now stands accused of “operating in every, single prison facility in the entire state,” as assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner put it in court in April. What’s more, the movement Brown leads has populist appeal outside of prisons, as suggested by an Apr. 13 meeting in Druid Hill Park, where, according to court documents, about 100 BGF members and supporters gathered as The Black Book and BGF t-shirts were distributed.