By Van Smith
Published by City Paper, May 27, 2009
An overarching presence in the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison-gang conspiracies indicted in April by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland is not a person, but a book.
Entitled The Black Book: Empowering Black Families and Communities, the 122-page softbound publication is a revolutionary call for economic and political liberation for blacks. Eric Marcell Brown, a 40-year-old inmate of the Maryland correctional system, is the author of much of its contents, and he, along with his wife, Deitra Davenport (see “Family Portraits,” Mobtown Beat, May 27, 2009), last year incorporated Dee Dat Publishing to get The Black Book printed and distributed for sale.
Brown, Davenport, and 23 other co-defendants named in the two BGF indictments are accused of drug dealing, prison smuggling, violence, and extortion. Prosecutors say The Black Book served as a propaganda tool for gang recruitment while its sales also helped finance the BGF’s criminal activities.
The feds’ assertions about the nefarious functions of The Black Book, though, are considered over-the-top by at least one educator: Tyrone Powers, the director of Anne Arundel County Community College’s Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute and an advisory board member of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center, a detention facility for young women. A former FBI agent and Maryland State Police trooper, Powers has a Ph.D. in sociology and justice from American University and hosts a radio show called “The Powers Report.”
The back cover of The Black Book has the following endorsement from Powers:
These are difficult days that require concrete, specific, effective solutions. This book provides that and more. If we want to win, to change our condition, our situation and the life chances of this generation, of our children and of our children’s children then we must read, analyze, think, learn and apply the lessons, concepts and practical solutions that are apart [sic] of this extraordinary volume written by four extraordinary insightful men and leaders.
Powers, in a mid-May phone interview, explains that “I met Eric [Brown] by going into the prison system as part of an effort to deal with three or four different gangs. Eric and others decided to put together this book, and it was all positive. I endorsed it because it could have some impact on the increasing gang problem, because people would read and understand this, as opposed to more academic writing that doesn’t connect with young people.
“I am totally unapologetic about endorsing this book and totally unapologetic about meeting Eric Brown,” Powers continues, “because it serves a positive purpose–to reduce the violence. This book is a means to that end. I don’t know anything about the financing end of it, and as for it being used for gang recruitment–I don’t know how it could be used for recruitment. It is all about building peace and tranquility.”
Also endorsing The Black Book on its back cover is former two-time Baltimore City mayoral candidate Andrey Bundley, a Baltimore City Public Schools administrator who oversees the city’s alternative education programs. “Kudos, to Eric Brown (E.B.) for not accepting the unhealthy traditions of street organizations aka gangs,” Bundley wrote. “He has availed his leadership capacity in Jamaa to guide his comrades toward truth, justice, freedom and equality.”
Jamaa, according to The Black Book, is a Swahili word for “family” that is defined as “an organization geared towards revitalizing our people and our hoods.” Brown and Davenport last year formed a non-profit organization called Harambee Jamaa Inc., which, according to its incorporation papers, intends “to education, invigorate and liberate our people from poverty, crime, and prison.”
“I’ve seen [rival gangs] come together in one room and work on the lessons in The Black Book to get themselves together,” Bundley told The Baltimore Sun in early May. “I know Eric Brown was a major player inside the prison doing that work. The quote on the back of the book is only about the work that I witnessed: no more, no less.”
The Black Book, according to its introduction, “is designed to make our people aware of the vision of Comrade George Jackson and the struggle that he lived and died for.” Jackson, a Black Panther Party member, founded the BGF as a Marxist prison gang in 1966, while serving time at San Quentin State Prison in California for an armed robbery conviction. Jackson was shot to death at San Quentin in 1971, in an incident that also left five others dead; Jackson was armed with a pistol when he was killed. At the time, he was awaiting trial on charges that he murdered a prison guard.
The four chapters of The Black Book include study guides and poems venerating a value system that seeks to uplift black communities, including incarcerated people. It invokes revolutionary ideals from the Black Power, Black Liberation, and Black Nationalism movements of the 1960s and melds them with instructions on how to live life. It calls itself a “living policy book,” and includes lessons on civics, economics, and gender roles. The book says, for instance, that a Jamaa woman is to be a “firearm expert,” who has “gun in hand, ready to take on all transgressors.” When a wife is disobedient, The Black Book says the husband first should “verbally reprimand her,” then “refuse to sleep with her,” “beat her lightly,” and “if these are not effective, the next step is divorce.”
During court proceedings in the BGF indictments, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wallner has claimed that The Black Book generates profits used to underwrite BGF crimes. But Davenport’s defense attorney, Thomas Saunders, has questioned that contention. “There is no profit, considering what printing costs are,” Saunders said, adding that Davenport “used her own money” to get the book published and was not using it as a “front to funnel money” to the BGF.