The Black Book: Feds say prison gang’s self-improvement guide is a money-laundering recruitment tool

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.

Rainbow Lee Williams: Murder Convict Who Mentors Schoolchildren Called a BGF Shot-Caller

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 1, 2009

When defense attorney Gerald Ruter was first appointed on Apr. 16 to represent Rainbow Lee Williams, a 30-year-old co-defendant in the Black Guerilla Family prison-gang federal-conspiracy case, Ruter sounded like he thought there was more to Williams than met the government’s eye.

“I have him working for a nonprofit, helping kids,” Ruter told assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner, just before Williams’ first court appearance began.

“That may be,” Wallner responds, “but he’s still indicted as a leader of the BGF.”

Five days later, Ruter said he had the verified facts about Williams’ employment, and presented them to U.S. District Court magistrate judge Beth Gesner while arguing for Williams’ conditional release pending trial. Williams, he explained, works for the nonprofit Partners in Progress Resource Center. Since shortly after his release from prison last September, when his murder sentence ended, Ruter said, Williams had been working for Partners in Progress four days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., for $1,200 per month. Partners in Progress, he explained, serves a high school called the Achievement Academy at Harbor City High School, located on Harford Road.

Ruter said he got all of these facts confirmed by Partners in Progress’ director, Bridget Alston-Smith, who, he said, is “aware of Williams’ criminal history, and she says he works on the campus itself as a mentor to individuals who have behavioral difficulties and is hands-on with all of the students.”

City Paper‘s attempts to reach Alston-Smith at the phone number Ruter gave in open court were unsuccessful. According to Baltimore City Public Schools’ guide to high schools, the Achievement Academy at Harbor City is “an alternative school designed to provide under-credited students with an accelerated program of study,” has an enrollment of 383 students in 9th through 12th grade, and Partners in Progress is listed among the schools partnerships.

The Black Book, a locally published self-improvement guide for those involved in the BGF movement, features a back-cover blurb written by Alston-Smith, in which she states that men in the movement “lead well because they listen well. As they continue on the path of self-improvement they will help improve the conditions of our families and communities.”

“I find it ironic that Mr. Williams is a mentor for disaffected youth,” Wallner told judge Gesner. Wallner’s prosecutorial assessment is based on what federal investigators found out about Williams in the course of their wire-tap probe into the BGF, which provided enough evidence to support a raid of Williams residence, as well as the grand jury’s charges against him. Wallner also told the judge that Williams was in possession of ammunition for a .357 caliber firearm when he was arrested.

Williams is “one of the leaders of BGF,” court documents state, and “is a lieutenant who handles the day-to-day drug distribution network and is also involved in the smuggling of contraband into correctional facilities.” A confidential source described Williams as “an extremely violent BGF member” who “has committed multiple murders, including numerous assaults/stabbings while in prison,” and he’s “loyal to, and takes orders from, [imprisoned BGF leader Eric] Brown.”

The court documents also recount intercepted phone conversations with other alleged BGF members, in which crimes-from hits to smuggling to drug-dealing-are discussed. In one, co-defendant Marlow Bates calls Brown in March, and the two discuss how Williams failed in his attempt to transfer tennis shoes, which allegedly contained contraband, to Brown while visiting him in prison. Williams kept the shoelaces untied, to facilitate the transfer, but they were so lose that “you could see that shoe lace, like hanging. That just look like a dead give-away,” Brown explained, and as a result a guard “knocked off” the shoe transfer. “Rainbow fucked that up,” he says.

In early April, phone calls between Williams and prison inmates were intercepted, in which prison violence and the rules of BGF conduct were discussed. In one, Williams calls inmate Lance Walker to talk about the Apr. 1 stabbing murder of inmate Nathaniel King, for which inmate Kelly Toomer is the suspect, according to court documents. But Williams tells Walker that Toomer is saying he did it under orders from Williams. Williams denies this, and says the rumor puts him in danger with BGF higher-ups.

The next day, Apr. 5, Williams is called by an unidentified prison inmate, who tells him that Willliams is believed to have passed on Eric Brown’s order to hurt another inmate named “Coco.” A conference call with other BGF members ensued, to go over the rules of the BGF, and the penalties for breaking them. In other calls, Williams acts as a mediator, trying to settle beefs between rivals in the BGF drug game.

Wallner also fingers Williams as “one of the leaders” of the BGF meeting in Druid Hill Park, held on Apr. 13 and attended, according to court documents, by about 100 people described as BGF members. “Following this incident,” court documents state, “calls were intercepted over the wiretaps in which Eric Brown chastised Rainbow Williams for holding the meeting in such a manner as to draw the attention of law enforcement. Brown stated in a scolding manner, `I been tellin’ you and tellin’ you, and you ain’t listenin.’ In reference to being stopped by the police, Brown added, `Ain’t nothin’ good about that, yo.'”

All of these activities ascribed by investigators to Williams occurred while, according to Ruter, Williams was employed by Partners in Progress as a youth mentor. Despite Ruter’s best efforts–and despite Williams’ boyish, fresh-faced looks, which he indignantly flashed in response to Wallner’s allegations–judge Gesner ordered Williams detained pending trial.

Nelson Arthur Robinson: Unemployed Truck Driver Said to be Caught Holding Bag of BGF Drugs

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 30, 2009


It’s not clear whether 45-year-old Nelson Arthur Robinson recognizes his prosecutor, but he should. As Robinson is ushered into a federal courtroom in Baltimore on Apr. 15 by U.S. marshals, set to be arraigned on accusations that he’s part of the sprawling Black Guerilla Family prison-gang conspiracy, assistant U.S. attorney James Wallner is there at the prosecution table. A decade ago, in 1999, Wallner was the assistant Baltimore City state’s attorney who secured Robinson’s guilty plea on a pot-possession charge, for which Robinson got a one-year sentence, all but a day suspended. This time, Wallner’s stone-faced demeanor belies a grim determination to get a bigger piece of Robinson.

When asked by the court clerk to raise his right hand to take an oath, Robinson instead raises his left and has to be corrected. His obliviousness doesn’t fit the profile of a stone-cold gangster, and, in fact, Robinson didn’t even rate enough to make it into the BGF indictments. Instead, he’s a collateral catch.

Robinson was arrested Apr. 15 while agents were busy raiding 12 BGF-linked locations. He was seen leaving an apartment at 1617 Bluffdale Road in Woodlawn, according to the government’s case. The location was under surveillance as part of the BGF take-down because it was associated with Tyrone Dow, a BGF co-defendant believed to be a supplier of drugs for another co-defendant, Kevin Glasscho. Robinson started to get into a truck parked nearby when, as agents approached him, he tossed aside a bag that was found to contain 175 grams of heroin. Robinson had left his keys in the door of the apartment, which was searched and found to contain another 225 grams of heroin, along with pressers and grinders used to process and package the drug.

The charges “smack of a lack of probable cause,” protested Robinson’s lawyer, David Solomon, during Robinson’s Apr. 20 detention hearing before U.S. District Court magistrate judge James Bredar. Solomon added that, though an “indictment may be imminent” against his client, as it stands a grand jury has yet to accuse him, and there “may be problems” with the case. Solomon urged the judge to take into account Robinson’s “relative good standing within the justice system,” given his recently ended “11-year hiatus” from criminal charges, and allow him to be released to the custody of his wife, Florence Robinson, until after the trial.

Instead, Bredar ordered Robinson on 24/7 lock-down at a half-way house, once a bed becomes available. “He gets in line” for half-way house placement, Bredar said. “Until then, he stays locked up.”

One week later, on April 22, the grand jury indicted Robinson.