Among the many high schools in Philadelphia, Central High School is the oldest in the district. Its doors opened in 1838 as the second public high school in the nation. There were four teachers and 63 students. Now, Central’s student population has reached approximately 2,360 students and over 100 teachers. There is a school president, similar to a principal, and three assistant principals.
Originally, Central housed an all boys’ population. Philadelphia High School for Girls was its counterpart. Until August 1983, the school became co-ed.
In 2011, Central was named a National Blue Ribbon School. Within the past decade, Central has consecutively made Adequate Yearly Progress and won 92 Public League Championships. Additionally, Central has had an extensive resume of national and international attention.
Before the first graduating class in 1842, Central held semi-annual commencements until 1965. Now, graduation happens annually, making this year's class the 271st graduating class of Central High School.
There are a host of notable Central Alumni who have excelled in careers of journalism, politics, science, math, technology, law, music, acting and education. Alain LeRoy Locke, author, philosopher and first African-American Rhodes Scholar, graduated in the 107th class. Frank “Tick” Coleman, educator and one of the first three known African-American Eagle Scouts, graduated in the 156th class. Philadelphia City councilman and son of former mayor W. Wilson Goode, W. Wilson Goode Jr. graduated in the 241st class. Seth Williams, district attorney of Philadelphia, graduated in the 244th class.
Through financial gifts of Central Alumni, the school was able to create a $6 million library. In Barnwell Library, there are several quiet rooms to study, computers are available for research and shelves filled with books. Additionally, there is a room full of memorabilia that showcases school apparel, trophies won and pictures of previous classes.
Students are kept engaged in academics, athletics and social experiences through several extra-curricular activities offered at Central.
Senior Jessica Beaver is an active member of the Central community. Beaver works as a student leader to one of the assistant principals, runs school tours and organizes the International Day, Career Day and High School Expo. She is the editor-in-chief of Mosaic, which is Central’s multicultural magazine, public relations officer of the concert choir and drama society and she’s involved with the school’s West Side Story musical.
“At Central, I have really have gotten to know and understand different types of people. At Central there is a representative from every part of the city and every ethnicity you could possibly think of. That interactive has prepared me, I think, for the real world as well as the academic side of it,” Beaver said. “Classes at Central are immensely challenging. The course load is heavy, and it’s comprehensive. So, I get a well-rounded education, a lot of hands on and simulated activities.”
Interactive activities are seen in room 328. Music teacher, Ben Blazer, assisted students with their presentations of musical periods in Western music.
Freshmen Genesis Sanchez, Genehia Walton and Najey McDuffie are preparing their PowerPoint presentation on the Renaissance musical era. These three students explained their experiences so far at Central. They liked attending the Freshmen Tea, an event that introduced ninth graders to activities and clubs at Central. Sanchez, Walton and McDuffie said they liked going to the school’s football and basketball games and lessons learned as freshmen.
Sanchez, a member of the track team and belly dance club, said she always enjoyed these activities and is excited to perform at Central’s Annual International Day in February.
Walton is thinking of being a member of the softball team and has interests in joining the school’s choir. She explained her sentiments about Central prior to attending and how those feelings have changed since the beginning of the school year.
“Now that I’m here, it’s not as hard as everybody talks about it. You got to actually stay on task. If you don’t stay on top of your work, keep organized and pay attention, then you’re going to be lost,” Walton said.
In contrast, McDuffie said she feels that the workload at Central is more than what she was used to as a student in middle school.
“Central was a lot different than my old school. The rigor of the work and how much work you get, homework, projects, tests every week. I wasn’t used to studying because I used to just know everything. Now, I really have to study,” McDuffie said.
Mia Clark, freshman and member of the self-defense club, discussed assignments given in classes, but said she has learned how to manage.
“It’s hard, I always knew it would be hard. Sometimes it might feel overwhelming because every teacher gives homework, but you figure out how to do it. You learn how to take care of yourself and you do learn a lot here [in Central],” Clark said.
As Clark sat in World History, the class prepared to play bingo with questions about Hinduism. Each student folded a loose-leaf piece of notebook paper into 16 squares. Students then answered 16 questions about the religion and wrote the answers in the boxes.
Lori Defields, an assistant principal, said it is interesting to see students engaged in interactive activities like educational bingo. She said teachers at Central like, George Filip, have the ability to make subject material more appealing to students.
“He engages the kids in a way that in English class, some teachers just can’t. He makes that class enjoyable for every student regardless of their talents, their skills and their interests. I really think he’s a really great teacher, but I go by what the kids say and the feedback I get is just phenomenal,” Defields said.
In a second level English class, Filip announced the three words of the day. Jokingly, he gave students the definitions of the words clandestine, acquiesce and acquiescence and asked them if they could use these words in their daily conversation.
Later as Filip handed pack chapter five review quizzes on the book “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, 10th-grader, Matrea Thomas cleared her desk to grade another classmate’s review quiz.
“He’s a good teacher. He’s different, but you’ll be able to understand him. Instead of just lecturing us he actually has conversations with us and conferences,” Thomas said.
Similarly, art department chair, Benjamin Walsh received praise from administration and students, as well.
“[He’s] highly talented,” Dr. Sheldon Pavel, president of Central, said.
“He wears so many hats. There’s not enough hours in the day for him,” Defields said.
As the web design teacher, member of the technology committee, swimming coach, the school’s Web designer and set designer for the school’s musicals, Walsh is engaged in many responsibilities at Central.
“It’s a busy day. As long as it benefits the students and everything that you do makes that piece more enriching for them and it gives them more tools and allows them to focus and learn more clearly,” Walsh said. “In the case of the play, it gives them a different experience outside the academic realm. That’s all worth it for me. I like being busy that way. I think most of it’s just making yourself available.”
In room 311, Walsh helped the web design class work on a five page website about environmental topics. In partnership with environmental science teacher, Galeet Cohen, the students will present their websites on Earth Day.
Senior, Naacara Edwards, chose to focus on global warming. She and her classmates used computer programs, Fireworks and Photoshop, to make interactive graphs and learned CSS computer code to make their sites from scratch. Edwards said she enjoyed creating the site for class and expressed her goals for college.
“I want to go to school for engineering so I could be a computer science engineer, but this is just for fun now,” Edwards said.
It has been 34 years since nine members of the radical group MOVE were convicted for the 1978 murder of Philadelphia police officer James J. Ramp during a police seizure in Powelton Village, and four years since eight members of the original MOVE 9 — Debbie Sims Africa, Janet Hollaway Africa, Janine Philips Africa, Williams Philips Africa, Delbert Orr Africa, Michael Davis Africa, Charles Sims Africa and Edward Goodman Africa — became eligible for parole.
The ninth member, Merle Austin Africa, died in prison in March 1998.
And depending on who is telling the story, the MOVE 9 are either guilty as charged, or a symbol of an oppressive judicial system hell-bent on silencing its critics and stamping out left-wing revolutionaries.
“Charles Africa’s parole hearing is coming up, and Debbie saw the parole board in June and was denied,” said MOVE spokesperson Ramona Africa. “The issue MOVE has is the demand for MOVE people to ‘take responsibility for the crime.’ MOVE people did not kill Ramp; we were in our own home when we were surrounded by thousands of cops. We didn’t go to [former Mayor Frank] Rizzo’s house, and we didn’t go to [former Police Commissioner Joseph F. O’Neill’s] house; they came to our house and attacked us in warlike fashion.”
Ramp was killed by a shot to the back of the head, and all members of the MOVE 9 were convicted of third degree murder.
The August 8, 1978, shooting of Ramp was the culmination of several confrontations MOVE had with the police department, and a chilling precursor to the infamous May 1985 Osage Avenue clash that resulted in a bomb being dropped on MOVE’s Osage Avenue compound, which led to the death of 11 people, including MOVE founder John Africa, and the decimation of several city blocks containing 65 homes.
Ramona Africa contends that “MOVE people didn’t kill anybody,” and believes there are holes in the theory that points to her organization as the culprits.
“If officials really believed MOVE killed Ramp, they wouldn’t have demolished the scene of the crime — but they demolished it within hours,” Africa said. “There should never have even been a trial once [the city] demolished the scene — that’s destroying evidence, leaving MOVE with no way to adequately defend itself.”
Africa contends MOVE 9 opted for a bench trial in front of late trial Judge Edward Malmed because the group didn’t want to appear before a slanted jury. But that decision came at a price.
“The burden was put squarely on the shoulders of Malmed, who is supposed to be learned in the law, objective and sworn to simply follow the legality that dictates procedure,” Africa said. “The judge did not do that, because if he had, he would have dismissed the case because of destruction of evidence.
“After the trial, Malmed convicted nine of my family members of third degree murder and conspiracy,” Africa continued. “And that is a contradiction. If he’s saying they conspired to kill a cop, wouldn’t that be first degree and not third? There are numerous inconsistencies here that clarify that my family was convicted and sentenced to 30 to 100 years, not because they committed any crime or any officials believe they did, but because they are MOVE people and committed revolutionaries.” Africa also contends that MOVE member and current life sentence prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal once asked Malmed to name the person responsible for Ramp’s murder, and Malmed allegedly responded that he hadn’t the faintest idea.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole wouldn’t comment further than confirming the hearing dates, and the minimum and maximum time each member must serve. While all remaining MOVE 9 members have been denied parole at their most recent hearing, two were denied parole for curious reasons. Edward Goodman Africa was denied due to a negative recommendation by the Department of Corrections, while Michael Davis Africa was denied due to his “denial of offenses committed,” according to parole board spokesperson Leo Dunn.
“Most people know, if nothing else, that in order to convict someone, whether judge or jury, you have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Africa, who has been denied visitation rights with her incarcerated family members, despite being out of jail herself for 20 years and has had a clean criminal record since her 1992 release. “Judge Malmed, obviously, was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The fallout from the 1985 bombing of MOVE’s compound resulted in former Mayor W. Wilson Goode authorizing a commission to investigate the decision-making of officials involved, and make recommendations on ways to avoid such confrontations in the future.
Africa contends that both the mayor and district attorney’s offices aren’t adhering to the commission’s suggestion of keeping open the lines of communication.
“For a little over a month now, we’ve been trying to get a meeting with [District Attorney] Seth Williams and Mayor Michael Nutter to discuss the issues pertaining to my family,” Africa said. “Nutter is the mayor of this city and needs to know what’s going on. We are not going to allow him to feign ignorance; we want to meet them.
“We want to meet with Williams because as district attorney he has authority over any criminal case, and because he gave a negative recommendation as district attorney to the parole board,” Africa continued. “Seth Williams doesn’t even know my family, as he was just a kid in 1978.
“The thing is that commission Wilson Goode put together said the city made a terrible mistake by not meeting with us and keeping lines of communication open — that it never happens again and to keep lines of communication open. The mayor is not doing that, and the district attorney is not doing that.”
District Attorney Spokesperson Tasha Jamerson draws a stark contradiction to Africa’s claims. While not commenting on the merits of the MOVE 9’s conviction and subsequent parole denials, Jamerson did take issue with Africa’s claim of communication misfires.
“The district attorney gets swamped by piles of mail and requests, and anyone who requests to meet, I go over it with [Williams],” Jamerson said, noting the process calls for anyone wishing to meet with Williams to submit a formal written request — something Jamerson said Africa failed to do. “If Ramona Africa sent any kind of request, I would have asked about it. If she asked for a meeting, I think [Williams] would meet with her, but no letter has come, and no phone call has come.”
Jamerson noted that Williams isn’t ducking any confrontation; rather, he and Africa have been in the same building at the same time on numerous occasions, one being at a recent screening and discussion about Tigre Hill’s controversial film, “The Barrel of A Gun,” and said there was a time when Williams tried to approach Africa — only to be shunned.
“There has been some communication back and forth,” Jamerson said. “But I’d point out that before the election in November, Williams was at an event in Old City and wanted to shake her hand and talk to her a little bit.
“She brushed him aside.”
Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesperson Mark McDonald confirmed that Nutter will not meet with Africa, as Nutter has no leverage or dealings in the matter.
“Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison handled the matter, and he says, what he learned from Africa is that her fight is with the parole board, and the mayor has no jurisdiction in this matter,” McDonald said. “Having a meeting for meeting’s sake doesn’t make sense. Ramona Africa has been informed of this some time ago. The mayor is polite and respectful of her, but won’t be meeting.”
In terms of release, Africa doubts her compatriots will ever be released before maxing out, meaning all MOVE 9 members are facing the prospect of dying in prison. And Africa doubts any of the incarcerated MOVE 9 members will ever cop a plea to somehow earn an early release.
“Our aim is not simply to get out of prison. Our aim is to expose and eliminate the rotten system that is the root of such injustices, so they will never say they are guilty. We continue to fight because we know our work is the same, whether we’re on the prison block or street block,” Africa said. “Guilt or innocence is not an issue with parole. What is supposed to determine parole is whether or not you’ve completed any designated programs, and my family has — they’ve even taught lessons. They also need an acceptable home and work plan, …
“None of my family members have bad conduct records,” Africa continued, allowing that one or two of her brothers may have had minor skirmishes while locked up. “Most importantly, their parole sheets don’t include any write-ups for misconduct. MOVE people aren’t going to lie, and more importantly, should not have to lie and say we are guilty if we are not.”
Law enforcement authorities have arrested and charged a suspect in the brutal slaying of a young doctor whose strangled and burning body was found in the basement of her home Monday afternoon.
Jason Smith, 36, from Crescent Lane in Levittown, Pennsylvania, was charged with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and related offenses in the slaying of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, 35. Smith was taken in for questioning by police at his home. His silver Ford pickup truck was also confiscated by investigators looking for evidence. Authorities said that on Thursday morning, Smith confessed to killing Ketunuti during an argument.
According to investigators, Smith was on a service call at Ketunuti’s home in the 1700 block of Naudain Street and the two were in the basement when the argument ensued. Captain James Clark of the Homicide Unit said there were no signs of sexual abuse. Investigators also believe that Ketunuti had never met her killer before.
“They got into an argument, and it went terribly wrong,” Clark said during a press conference at Philadelphia Police Headquarters. “He struck the victim and knocked her to the ground. He jumped on top of her and started strangling her with a rope. She passed out and then after binding her hands and feet he set her body on fire to cover up any DNA evidence.”
Clark said that police received an emergency call from Ketunuti’s dog walker around 12:30 p.m. regarding the fire in the basement. When firefighters arrived they extinguished the blaze and discovered the body.
Detectives examined the surveillance records from cameras in the vicinity, particularly several businesses, and learned that the victim had run errands before returning to her home. Several cameras showed Smith following Ketunuti to her home and leaving her residence after about an hour. Surveillance records also showed Smith circling her home before leaving the area. At one point during the investigation, a $33,500 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.
“I would first like to send my thoughts and prayers to the family, friends and neighbors of Melissa Ketunuti,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I know their pain must be enormous, and I hope that today’s arrest will help ease some of that pain. I also want to commend the Philadelphia Police Department’s homicide detectives who worked tirelessly to solve this case. I think too often we forget to show our gratitude to these hardworking men and women who are true heroes and whose main priority every day is to bring justice to victims and their families.”
Ketunuti had been working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for five years, serving first as a pediatrician, according to a statement released by Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.
“The entire community of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a second-year infectious diseases fellow and researcher at CHOP. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time. Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright, young woman with her whole future ahead of her,” said Offit. “But more than that, she was admired, respected and loved by those with whom she worked here at CHOP. Her death will have a profound impact on those who worked with her, and we will all miss her deeply.”
Members of Philadelphia Muslim leadership are angry and disturbed by a spike of recent bank robberies and other crimes in which the suspects had the temerity to dress as Muslim women, fostering what they say is discrimination and disrespect.
On Tuesday April 24 a group of local Imams were joined by Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., and District Attorney Seth Williams in the City Council Caucus room at City Hall to announce a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone who commits a crime dressed as a Muslim woman.
“The Muslim leadership of Philadelphia, represented by the Majlis Ash’Shura, unequivocally condemns the men who committed these crimes while disguised as Muslim women,” said Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen, Secretary for Majlis Ash’Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. “The Majlis Ash’Shura is announcing a $20,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of these men. Robbery and murder are abhorrent to the Muslim way of life. When criminals commit these acts disguised as our women they place them in danger of being stereotyped, victimized and ostracized by society. We regard this as discriminatory, and this is a hate crime against Muslims. Such cowardly, repugnant criminals are nothing but a plague in our community. We will work with all law enforcement agencies and citizens to remove this cancer from our streets.”
The announcement followed several recent crimes in which the suspects dressed in Muslim women’s attire; a deadly shooting inside an Upper Darby barbershop, and several bank robberies.
“This is a growing concern in our neighborhoods,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones. “In many ways I’m reminded of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, stereotyped because of a garment called a hoodie. The hoodie has become a symbol of fear for many Americans, and in Trayvon’s case, that fear was acted upon in a negative way. This concerns me because there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Islam and the attire they wear. For cowards to dress as [Muslim] women and perpetrate a crime is absolutely wrong. The district attorney is very concerned about this; the Muslim community is deeply concerned. This places young women in a stereotype and puts them in danger when people view their attire — not for what it is, but as a tool to perpetrate a crime. We cannot stand for this.”
On March 20 just before 12:30 p.m., two suspects entered a Sovereign Bank branch office at 8310 Stenton Avenue dressed in female Muslim clothing. After presenting a threatening demand note, they fled the bank with an undisclosed amount of cash. The same suspects are believed to have hit a Wells Fargo Bank located at 700 Adams Avenue on April 4. In another unrelated incident on February 18, Sharif Wynn, 27, allegedly shot and killed 35-year-old Michael Turner inside his Upper Darby barbershop on Copley Road. Police say that on the day in question, Wynn allegedly dressed in female Muslim garb, went into the Modern Hair Designs barber shop at 8 Copley Road and demanded money. But once Turner handed over his money, Wynn allegedly opened fire and killed him. Investigators said the motive was a love triangle.
“We’re seeing all too often, cowards who dress in the traditional garb of Muslim women robbing banks and shooting people,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams. “One of the defendants who participated in the robbery in which Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was shot to death was wearing Muslim women’s clothing. We have to make sure that women aren’t degraded by this. Give us information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the cowards that dress as women in a way that helps them commit their evil crimes.”
Abdul Mateen said these recent criminal acts place a black mark on the Muslim community - a community that has already seen discrimination and fearful reprisals against Muslims, especially following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said he’s also been following the reports of criminals wearing female Muslim attire and thinks the local leadership is handling the situation well. He said he is also concerned that these recent incidents only serve to enflame hatred against Muslims.
“Islamophobes love to see this sort of thing, because it gives them fuel to express their hatred,” Hooper said. “Now they can say, ‘See, this is why Muslim women shouldn’t dress the way they do.’ I think this offer of a reward is the right one in that it increases the likelihood that the criminals will get caught. Yes, this does serve to nurture discrimination — we’ve had reports of several situations where Muslim women were denied service because of the manner in which they dress. I think this is a commendable action, and I hope these men are quickly caught.”
On March 3, 2008 three men, two of them dressed as Muslim women robbed a bank in the city’s Port Richmond section. While trying to make their escape, Howard Cain, Eric DeShann Floyd and Levon Warner were intercepted by Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, who was consequently killed, allegedly by Cain, who was also killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
“I stand with the leaders of the Majlish Ash Shura in condemning such gutless actions by these individuals,” Jones said. “These crimes are in direct opposition to the Islamic way of life, and I hope these criminals are brought to justice as soon as possible.”
Rodney Ramseur and his girlfriend, Latia Jones, were sitting on the porch of his residence Monday evening, May 14 when an unidentified young Black male walked up to the couple and fired several shots, killing them both.
It’s early in the investigation and so far the actual motive hasn’t been determined, but detectives are speculating that Ramseur was targeted because he was a witness to a 2010 shooting. While that hasn’t been confirmed, it nonetheless has raised the issue of how to best protect witnesses in criminal cases — especially at a time of limited financial resources. Ramseur’s family is saying that he wasn’t protected by the police or the District Attorney’s office.
“We need our witnesses to fight crime and help get criminals off of our streets,” said Tasha Jamerson, spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. “And the public should know that witness intimidation doesn’t just involve homicide cases, not anymore. Witnesses in illegal gun cases have been threatened also. But we are able to protect witnesses through our relocation program, and the public should also be aware of the fact that we have never turned anyone away who asked for our help. The police are very adept at determining when someone is being threatened. Any witness in any case who feels threatened would be offered services by both our office and the police department. We would never turn away anyone who asks for our help.”
In Philadelphia, the District Attorney’s office operates a witness relocation program. Witnesses who are going to testify in court can have themselves and their families moved on a moment’s notice to a safe location. No one who has been in the program and followed its protocols, such as staying out of previous neighborhoods, has ever been harmed.
It has often been said by numerous law enforcement officials and legislators that witness intimidation tears away at the very structure of the criminal justice system. When a crime has been committed and witnesses refuse to testify — either out of fear or the twisted code of ‘no snitching’ — cases can and often do get dismissed and criminals go free. On the federal level, witness protection has saved the lives of many people by providing not just relocation to another state but new identities as well. Of course, the witness takes considerable risks if they ever return to their old haunts — which is what happened to 23-year-old Chante Wright in 2008.
In January of that year, Wright returned to Philadelphia to see a relative who was gravely ill. She had been in federal witness protection after testifying against alleged drug dealer Hakim Bey in connection with the murder of Moses Williams in 2000. Bey is a relative of Dawud Bey, an associate of convicted drug dealer Kaboni Savage, who will be coming up for federal prosecution again in the case of the Coleman Family murders — a case where a family was killed in retaliation against a witness.
Wright had been in Philadelphia for only seven hours before she and her friend Octavia Green were both gunned down in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia, allegedly by Laquaille Bryant, an associate of Bey, who is now serving a life sentence for both murders. Wright was the second witness in the Moses Williams murder case, being killed after Omar Morris, who was shot to death on Christmas morning 2002.
“Witness intimidation affects many violent crime cases,” said Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams recently when he went before City Council to ask for additional funding to hire 13 additional assistant district attorneys. “The grim reality is that witness intimidation negatively affects virtually every homicide, and has been more and more of a factor in our non-fatal shootings as well. When there is witness intimidation, my assistant district attorneys must dedicate more time to the underlying cases, trying to ensure that victims and witnesses continue to cooperate and testify at trial. What we know is that the District Attorney’s Office is underfunded. I have said this during each of my prior two budget hearings. When you compare us to other prosecutors’ offices in the largest counties in the country, we now have the second lowest funding.”
One of the most notorious cases of retaliation against a witness in the city was the murders of the family of Eugene Coleman. Coleman, an associate of drug dealer Kaboni Savage, agreed with federal prosecutors to testify against Savage. In response, Savage allegedly ordered the deaths of Coleman’s family, who perished when their house was firebombed on October 9, 2004. The victims were Marcella Coleman, 54; Coleman’s infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15 months old; Marcella Coleman’s niece, Tameka Nash, 34; her daughter, Khadjah Nash, 10; Marcella Coleman’s grandson Tahj Porchea, 12; and a family friend, Sean Rodriguez, 15.
“Witness intimidation pervades our society, even in cases where it’s just perceived — that people just think they may be threatened,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross. “It’s a problem across the country and in every criminal case and because of it, whether actual or just perceived, witnesses can be reluctant to come forward — and this is exactly what criminals want. It starts on the street with people who may have seen something and are told that if they say anything then something bad will happen. Now most of these guys don’t have the means to actually carry out a threat, but just the perception is often enough to deter witnesses. It ties our hands and emboldens criminals. But factually speaking it’s not as widespread as it is perceived to be — in the lion’s share of homicide cases it’s not an issue. Does it happen? Yes, but not nearly as often as people think it does.”
As the investigation into the murders of Ramseur and Jones continues, as of Tribune press time no suspects have been named. Ramseur had been a witness to the May 3, 2010, shooting of Savoeun Ning and had testified against the suspect, Garland Doughty on May 8. Doughty is now being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
Eyewitnesses of the shooting described the suspect as a Black male who was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, who fled the scene down Third Street in the direction of Godfrey Avenue. Ramseur, who originally gave a statement against Doughty, recanted his earlier testimony during the May 8 hearing. Ramseur was known to police, who continue to investigate to determine the exact motive in his killing.
“We have to look at every possibility, especially in a case like this,” Ross said.
The key to eradicating crime and violent behavior, say organizers with the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania, is to invest more resources in early care and child education.
That was the theme earlier this week as Fight Crime visited the Penn Alexander School to unveil its findings in the multi-point plan, “High-Quality Early Care and Education: a Key To Reducing Crime in Pennsylvania.”
The plan points to numerous nationwide studies which found that in Michigan, at-risk children not enrolled in high-quality programs were five times more likely to be chronic offenders by the age of 27; another report, this one based on Chicago, found that at-risk kids not participating in the city’s child-parent center programs are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 19.
And since the School District of Philadelphia’s enrollment of at-risk/economically disadvantaged children currently sits at 80.6 percent – or 117,749 students – it only made sense for Philadelphia to be the first stop in a statewide mission, said Fight Crime Pennsylvania State Director Bruce Clash.
“Philadelphia is obviously important because it’s a big city, and important because so many kids here have unmet needs,” Clash said. “And that’s a travesty for them, their families and the community at large.”
Clashed praised the efforts of District Attorney Seth Williams in embracing the findings and for attending the unveiling, along with district superintendent Dr. William Hite Sr. and other elected and appointed officials.
Williams and Hite were both unavailable for comment as of Tribune press time.
The report illustrates in great detail the correlation between the lack of education and criminality and the positive effects reaped when limited resources are properly utilized, vital when only 17.6 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-K programs throughout the commonwealth. The report also shows that Pennsylvania spends more than $2.3 billion on incarceration, but only $340 million on early childhood education.
“Law enforcement leaders across Pennsylvania want to make sure more Pennsylvania children receive high-quality care and education in their early years – the help they need to succeed in life and avoid later crime and violence,” read a portion of the findings. “Despite strong evidence that high-quality early education can reduce future corrections costs in Pennsylvania and nationally, spending on corrections far surpasses spending on early education.”
The report further shows that, of criminals labeled chronic offenders by the age of 2, 35 percent of them did not attend or participate in preschool programs; conversely, only 7 percent of those that did attend such a program went on to be considered chronic offenders.
The report suggests several ways to cut off young criminal pipeline, including increasing the number of quality teachers, better funding for federal early care, Pre-K and headstart programs, better implementation of the Child Care and Development Block grant and more school districts taking part in the federal “Race To The Top” program.
“The thing most criminals have in common is the lack of a high school education. Not everyone who doesn’t get a diploma commits a crime, but there are more likely to commit a crime and be incarcerated,” Clash said. “So we targeted early childhood, with 40 years of research showing us that if you reach at-risk and economically disadvantaged children, 44 percent more were likely to graduate because they have a foundation to build on, develop, grow from and attain the skills they need in life.”
Clash said inroads are being made, citing the recent, multi-million dollar funding of the state’s “Pre-K Counts” program and the various Headstart initiatives. Those two programs are funded through a series of line items in the state budget.
“Both of these funding streams are used by the School District of Philadelphia and by hundreds of school districts throughout the state, and many other districts use their own money for these programs,” Clash said. “Momentum continues to grow, but the problem is that only 17 percent of all Pennsylvanian three- and four-year-olds receive publicly-funded, high-quality Pre-K programming.
“And in Philadelphia, it’s a huge, unmet need, since 3,100 kids are at the poverty line do not have access to pre-K programs because they are on a wait list,” Clash continued. “So this report makes the case of why law enforcement is so concerned about getting access to pre-K young kids. Long-term arrests come down, and behaviorally, the data shows a reduction in early aggressive behavior.”
Given the polarization in American politics today, it’s interesting that some conservatives and liberals share the view that Philadelphia-born death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal receives too much attention.
Deflating the international attention generated by Abu-Jamal’s controversial conviction is one reason cited last week by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams when announcing he would not continue seek to reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence struck down by federal courts.
For conservatives, any mention of Abu-Jamal is one mention too many.
Federal courts determined Abu-Jamal endured a legally flawed death sentence for over 20 years — an injustice now aggravated by a life sentence.
Hatred for Abu-Jamal is so intense among some “law-and-order champions they often damage things they adore protesting against attention given to one of the world’s most well-known inmates.
Consider the cops in the motorcycle club that frequently show up at events for Abu-Jamal seeking to disrupt by loudly roaring engines on their beloved Harley bikes.
During an Abu-Jamal event at the Constitution Center last Friday evening, a motor gunning session by club members intended to aurally overwhelm that event resulted in one cyclist blowing the engine on his bike, according to an account by journalist Dave Lindorff, author of the 2003 book on the Abu-Jamal case “Killing Time.”
During a similar engine gunning session a few years ago another anti-Abu-Jamal biker blew an engine — a costly form of protest.
Some liberals spouting their Mumia-gets-too-much-attention chime claim their contention is not a criticism of Abu-Jamal but a concern about the cases of other persons languishing in obscurity on death row.
Some liberals advance this assertion despite the fact that Abu-Jamal persistently uses his public platform to raise attention about justice system injustices generally and the specific plight of others dealing with the death penalty.
Although blasting Abu-Jamal as an attention grabber, when pressed to name one among the 3,000-plus on America’s death rows more worthy of attention most liberals in this line fail to utter a single name.
Well, here’s the name of a Texas death row inmate facing imminent execution on a flimsy set of facts — Linda Carty.
Carty, born in the Caribbean, stands convicted of masterminding the 2001 murder of Joana Rodriguez.
Prosecutors claimed Carty wanted Rodriguez’s baby because Carty wanted a baby for her scheme to keep her common-law husband from leaving her.
At the time of the crime Carty had a child of her own, a 22-year-old daughter.
Prosecutors successfully claimed in court that Carty was prepared to kidnap Rodriguez and cut the baby from her body.
Carty, according to prosecutors, enlisted three men to break into the apartment Rodriguez occupied with her boyfriend, a unit located a few doors from Carty’s apartment.
The strongest evidence presented against Carty at trial came from the three men arrested for kidnapping and killing Rodriguez during a crime to steal drugs and money. Rodriguez’s four-day-old son was found unharmed.
Those prime prosecution witnesses got plea deals leading to prison sentences for their accusing Carty, who did not participate in the kidnap or killing of Rodriguez, landing her on death row.
Like the Abu-Jamal case and too many other death-row injustices, Carty’s case reeks with the standard flaws of a poor defense lawyer, convict-at-all-costs police and prosecutors plus appellate courts that give a cold shoulder to obvious illegalities.
Carty’s court appointed attorney has the dubious distinction of having more of his clients (20) on death row than any lawyer in America. (Abu-Jamal’s pro-prosecution trial judge presided over more death sentences that any judge in America.)
Carty’s lawyer, Jerry Guerinot, critics point out, only spent fifteen minutes with his client before the murder trial, did not investigate the case in any depth, did not interview any of the key witnesses and failed to present any evidence on his client’s behalf.
Guerinot did not attack inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case like the claim of her purchasing surgical scissors in preparation for cutting the baby from the victim’s stomach. The scissors the prosecution presented as evidence at trial were blunt bandage cutters incapable to penetrating skin.
Further, Guerinot did not seek assistance from the British government since Carty is a British citizen. She lived in Houston, Texas, at the time of the crime.
The British government, brought into Carty’s case during a late stage appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed an amicus brief arguing Guerinot failed to comply with his professional obligations to utilize all resources available to him inclusive of getting treaty-required assistance from the British government.
Guerinot’s “failure” to contact a British consular before the trial “prevented the jury from hearing important and directly relevant mitigation evidence, and, together with other failures…undermined the fairness of the proceeding that resulted in the sentence of death for Ms Carty,” stated that British amicus.
The mitigating evidence referenced in the British amicus included Carty being raped in 1988 while attending a Houston university, her suffering PTS from that rape and abusive relationships, her previous work as a school teacher and her work as a DEA informant.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Carty’s appeal in May 2010, a supremely obscene sanctioning of derelict inactions by Guerinot. Other federal and Texas appellate courts also cold-shouldered the mistreatment of Carty.
Carty needs a new trial not an execution needle that Texas authorities are preparing to place in her arm.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Dry run of voter ID law, get out the vote efforts
Candidates, their campaign staffs, and city officials, were bracing for a particularly difficult Election Day today as Pennsylvania voters head to the polls to cast their vote in the spring primary.
“It’s an unusually complex environment,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. “I think there is going to be a lot of scrutiny of this election.”
In addition to the typical challenges voters face — which candidate to choose — voters in this primary also have to deal with the “soft roll out” of the state’s new voter ID law.
Though the law does not go into effect until the Nov. 6 election, poll workers will be asking voters for a photo ID this time in an effort to get a handle on how many lack the identification required for the fall.
“This is just a dry run,” Singer said. “You will do nothing differently.”
But, the change has everyone from candidates to volunteers paying a little more attention.
“You are going to make this happen,” Damon K. Roberts, a candidate for the state House, told volunteers at a training session for polling place volunteers Monday morning at his Dickinson Street office. “Victory needs to be on your face.”
It was crunch time and similar scenes were playing out all over the city and state. Every seat in the state House is up for grabs, as are half the seats in the state Senate.
In addition, Pennsylvania voters will choose their party’s candidates for president, U.S. senator and representative, state attorney general, treasurer and auditor general. In Philadelphia, which is overwhelmingly made up of Democratic voters, the primary often determines who ultimately wins in the general election.
Roberts is locked in a tough contest with former Youth Commissioner Jordan Harris for the 186th Legislative District, who is widely viewed as the favorite, and Timothy Hannah, a long-time community activist.
The race for the 186th is a prime example of the situation city voters face as they head to the polls. Though there is no incumbent in the race, Harris, who was endorsed by The Tribune Sunday, has the backing of the Democratic establishment — including city Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who held the 186th seat until January, and state Sen. Anthony Williams. Roberts has run for state representative and City Council before.
In addition, voters in the district will be asked to choose someone to fill the remainder of Johnson’s term in the state House. The Democrat there is Harold James, who held the seat for decades before retiring in 2008, paving the way for Johnson’s win.
The race in the 186th is just one of several hotly contested races across the city. In other races to watch include the 188th District, which pits incumbent state Rep. James Roebuck against newcomer Fatimah Muhammad. The campaign has taken on a negative tone with a political action committee attacking Roebuck, who has the support of the teachers’ union, for his stance on public education. Muhammad told The Tribune the attack had nothing to do with her campaign, adding that she supports vouchers in principle, but does not endorse the proposal now in the House.
In the 197th District, Jewel Williams, daughter of former state Rep., now Sheriff Jewell Williams is seeking her father’s seat in Harrisburg. She faces several contenders in the race: J. Miranda, Kenneth Walker and Jamil Ali. Opponents have accused to Williams of fostering confusion among voters in an effort to get them to vote for her thinking they are voting for her father. Voters here will also be asked to pick someone to fill the remainder of Jewell Williams’ seat. The choice there is between ward leader Gary Williams or perennial candidate T. Milton Street, brother of former Mayor John Street, who once served in the state House and has since served time for tax evasion.
Eighteen-year incumbent state Rep. Rosita Youngblood faces two challengers this primary season: Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley. The development at Chelten Plaza, which sparked a neighborhood controversy, had divided constituents. Youngblood opposed the project after the developer altered plans to build at Super Fresh there. Boyd backed the change, which brought a Sav-A-Lot to the plaza along with a dollar store, saying they were more in line with what the district needed.
Despite the hype, and the new voter ID law, voter turnout is expected to be low — perhaps lower than usual because of voter confusion about the state’s new voter ID law.
Voter turnout in primary elections in non-presidential years is typically low.
Singer said she’s not sure what this year’s turnout will look like.
“I have been surprised at how much anger there is over the voter ID law,” she said, adding that she hoped that anger would translate in votes. “The best way to beat this is for Philadelphians to come out and vote.”
Most expect the confusion that surrounds the new law and traditional voter apathy to reduce turn out.
“Voting here and around the country is embarrassingly low,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, an elections watchdog group.
Both declined to give estimates.
There were slightly more than 1 million registered voters in the 2011 primary — 797,762 Democrats and 127,165 Republicans with 90,000 others. But, only 17.6 percent of the registered voters turned out in the 2011 primary.
Roberts was well aware of the statistics and told his volunteers the contest is likely to be close — urging them to get their friends and neighbors to vote.
“This might come down to five or 10 votes,” he said.
Stirring voters’ passions can be difficult.
Roberts portrays himself as a community crusader battling the city’s political machine.
“Some people just go along with the agenda,” he said, getting his volunteers fired up.
But, he also made sure they knew he was a Democrat, telling the group that the Republicans who control Harrisburg have a “radical right agenda.”
He used education as an example — honing in on vouchers — a hot button issue in this election cycle, in part because the political action committee Students First has poured tens of thousands of dollars into several races in south, southwest and west Philadelphia.
“If they destroy our public schools, where are our kids going to go?” asked Roberts.
In one corner, Kevin Parks had been listening as he inserted flyers into packets that would go to every polling place volunteer in the district.
As Roberts talked, Parks had difficulty containing himself.
“The private schools can turn out the kids,” he said loudly, shaking his head.
With every seat in the state House up for grabs and voter turnout expected to be low, candidates rely on grassroots enthusiasm.
“You are going to make it happen,” Roberts told his people.
He hopes to have between 160 and 200 volunteers at polling places across the district. Some of those will be the volunteers that stand outside the polling places. Some will be poll watchers, who must be certified to stand inside the polling place.
City officials will be watching closely this year.
“We understand that there may be some confusion this year with the new voter ID law that is now in place,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “We want to make sure that no one is discouraged about going to the polls … because of that confusion.”
He promised that his office would “go after any criminal activity and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”
In making multiple visits to Philadelphia, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has shown he isn’t afraid to take the fight deep inside a longtime Democratic stronghold. And Romney’s campaign is attacking President Barack Obama’s stance on the one issue most critical to the majority of Philadelphians: public education.
Romney visited Guion S. Bluford Elementary School in West Philadelphia — a Renaissance School matched with a “turnaround” team led by Universal Companies and its founder, Kenny Gamble — on Thursday. In declaring that African-American schools need more money, Romney ripped a page from Obama’s playbook by bringing the conversation to the group of people affected the most.
The Republican presidential candidate visited the school a day after declaring education is the “civil rights issue of our era.”
Romney repeated that declaration during the school visit, but struggled to defend his view that class sizes aren’t a major factor in educational success. Local African-American leaders also said his push for more two-parent families isn’t realistic in their community.
As of press time, officials with Universal haven’t returned calls seeking comment. The School District of Philadelphia also wasn’t aware of Romney’s visit. Bluford sits in City Councilman Curtis Jones’ 4th district, and during Thursday’s Council meeting, Jones voiced his displeasure at both Romney’s low-key visit, and the presidential hopeful’s stance on education.
“Unbeknownst to many people [Romney] was here this morning at Bluford Elementary school where he was espousing his ‘class sizes don’t matter’ and everybody knows, even internally, size matters — class sizes,” Jones said, thanking his Republican colleagues on council for not meeting up with the former Massachusetts governor.
Jones said he only became aware of Romney’s visit through an update on KWY newsradio. Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams joined a rally outside of Bluford, condemning Romney’s stances — and for creeping quietly into Philadelphia.
In advance of his visit, Romney and his election campaign have simultaneously attacked Obama’s stance as elitist while urging districts to do away teacher unions.
“You know, President Obama likes to talk about how he’s for the underprivileged, but when it comes to the money that comes from the teachers union, he’s putting that campaign cash ahead of the needs of our kids. We have to recognize it’s time to put kids first, to get education on track by giving people greater choice in schools, by making sure we reward the very best teachers with great careers and rising income,” Romney said via a statement released by his campaign. “We know what to do to make our schools better.”
Those remarks mirror what Romney recently told Fox News’ Stave Doocy. When asked about the president’s education agenda, Romney wasted little time in going into attack mode, pointing to a Washington, D.C., school choice program that Romney claims Obama and the teachers union shuttled.
“We have a teachers’ union that too often stands in the way of the kind of reforms that would make education work. We know, for instance, in Washington, D.C., that school choice there helped immeasurably with young people - improving their quality of learning and their skills, and yet the President shut down the program,” Romney said on the news program. “We’ve got to put the unions behind, and put the kids first.”
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan assailed the notion that teacher unions are standing in the way of school reform. Jordan noted that the PFT has sacrificed and produced several rounds of givebacks during recent contract discussions. Jordan said there are other factors in union negotiations that either Romney doesn’t know about or fails to acknowledge.
“We have consistently [partnered with the district on cuts] and I would defy anyone from the board who suggests we haven’t been very effective in working with the district to keep health care costs as low as they can possibly be through negotiations,” Jordan said, during a recent editorial board meeting at The Tribune. “That’s a reality that all organizations have to build in; you shouldn’t ask people to work and not have health care.”
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman with President Obama’s reelection campaign, quickly responded to Romney’s visit to Philadelphia — and to the assertions Romney made; striking at Romney’s often-criticized business models and asking if the presidential hopeful will apply the same tactics to education as he did while at Bain Capital.
“When he’s in Philadelphia today, will Mitt Romney tell the truth about how he wants to apply Romney Economics to education? As we’ve seen throughout Mitt Romney’s career in both the private and public sectors, Romney Economics is all about the short term,” Smith said via a statement released by the Obama reelection campaign. “We’ve already seen what Romney Economics meant for Massachusetts students — larger class sizes, a de-emphasis on critical early education, teachers laid off, and in one year alone, the second-largest per-pupil cuts in the nation … these aren’t the priorities Americans want in our President.”
Tribune staff writer Eric Mayes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
When the grand jury’s report concerning Dr. Kermit Gosnell was made public in 2011, District Attorney Seth Williams emphatically stated that the case wasn’t about the legal and moral ramifications of abortion.
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore echoed those remarks during her opening arguments this week at the start of Gosnell’s trial, saying that the case wasn’t about abortion but about murder. Gosnell has been charged with seven counts of first degree murder for allegedly killing seven viable fetuses and third degree murder in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, a patient of his.
But the issue of abortion - if and when it should be legal - remains a passionately contested medical procedure since the United States Supreme Court ruled on its legality on January 22, 1973 in the case of Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice advocates are adamant about what they term as a woman’s right to choose either to terminate a pregnancy or bring a new human being into the world. Pro-life advocates are equally passionate in arguing the perspective that abortion is, essentially, murder. The case against Gosnell comes at a time when states across the nation are looking at new measures to restrict abortion and the moral and ethical issues peripheral to the procedure are also being increasingly debated.
This week, legislators in Kansas approved a bill preventing abortion providers from claiming tax breaks or assisting with public school sex education classes. Under the proposal, the state would be prevented form subsidizing abortions and the bill contains language regarding when life begins and that the rights of unborn children should be protected. The Republican controlled Kansas House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 92-31. In North Dakota, lawmakers passed legislation banning abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and in Arkansas a law was passed restricting abortions after the 12th week.
In Pennsylvania the Republican controlled House of Representatives are debating House Bill 1077, known as the Women’s Right to know Act. The bill calls for any woman wanting to have an abortion to have an ultrasound image of the fetus taken 24-hours before the procedure. The proposal would require the mother review the status of the unborn child, sign a written report to give to the provider and receive a sealed copy of the ultrasound image. State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who introduced the bill said women deserve the right to make a fully informed choice.
“Women deserve the right to view their complete medical records, and ultra sound technology exists and is already present in Pennsylvania abortion clinics,” Rapp said in a press release. “Without this legislation, a double standard will remain whereby women in perhaps their greatest time of need and indecision are not given complete information.”
Supporters of the bill believe if the mother sees an image of the fetus they might change their minds about having an abortion. Opponents say it is an intrusion into the mother’s health. The bill has been stalled in the House since 2012.
Rev. Dr. Clenard H. Childress Jr., founder of the Pro-life website Blackgenocide.org said that the Gosnell case has raised the moral and ethical questions surrounding legalized abortion.
“If nothing else, this case will bring greater discussion about abortion among African Americans. This case is not just the babies Gosnell is accused of murdering but the numerous women he victimized who will never be known,” Childress said. “Gosnell operated with impunity, he feared no one coming through his doors and that indicates someone was paid off – plain and simple. This isn’t just a political issue; this is a crime against humanity. Gosnell is not just a rare case; I believe it is the tip of a very large iceberg. Abortion would not be legal if it weren’t lucrative and 78 percent of abortion clinics are in poor Black neighborhoods – what does that tell you? Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood once said, ‘more children from the fit, less from the unfit.’ That’s the ideology at work here. I know of Black women who have had multiple abortions because they’ve been taught to use it as a means of contraception.”
The trial of Gosnell is expected to last about six weeks, with several former associates waiting to testify against him. Allegedly, Gosnell ran an unsanitary abortion clinic, performing illegal late term procedures under filthy conditions that prosecutors say would have appalled doctors in even the worst third world nation refugee camps. According to the lengthy Grand Jury report, Gosnell would induce labor in his patients and, after they gave birth, killed viable babies by a process he called “snipping,” where he or one of his assistants cut open the back of the neck of the newly born baby and severed the spinal cord with scissors.
As a result of the investigation, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a measure that significantly toughened standards for Pennsylvania’s 24 abortion clinics.
The new law requires abortion facilities to be regulated according to the same safety standards as ambulatory or outpatient surgical facilities. It also requires the Department of Health to perform at least one unannounced inspection of each abortion facility annually, modify the definition of “abortion facility.”
“Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here [at the Women’s Medical Society]. But no one put a stop to it,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams. “For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about the controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”