Disturbing video surfaces of Davontae Sanford being forcefully subdued by prison guards at the age of 16

Yesterday the folks at the Huffington Post released a gut-wrenching expose on the treatment of kids sentenced to adult prison in Michigan. The report, titled Cruel and All-Too-Usual, begins with a graphic video accompanied by the following warning.

Warning: The following video, obtained by The Huffington Post, shows the rough treatment of a minor by correctional officers and may be disturbing to some viewers. If you are in a public place, headphones are advisable.

The footage, which can be seen below, would be disturbing even if I didn’t know the young man being held down by half a dozen officers. But, according to a message I received earlier this evening, I do know the man. Or at least I know of him. He’s someone we’ve talked about here over the past several years, since he was arrested the age of 14 for the murder of four people in a Detroit drug house. His name is Davontae Sanford.

At least that’s what his mom, Taminko Sanford, just told me. He’s not identified in the video, and his face is blurred, but she says it’s Davontae in the video, being held down by the officers, and then softly singing to himself. And I have no reason not be believer her.

According to the documentation accompanying the footage, it was shot of a 16-year-old inmate with learning disabilities at the Thumb Correctional facility in 2009, so I suspect it is Davontae, who was arrested at 14 years old in 2007. This video, we’re told, came shortly after he threatened to hang himself.

Prison Guards Subdue, Strip, and Restrain a 16-Year-Old Inmate from HuffPost Highline on Vimeo.

Following, by way of background, is something that I wrote about Davontae’s case several years ago.

…Davontae, who read at a third-grade level at the time of his arrest, signed and initialed a typewritten confession given to him by a detective. No video of his questioning, which took place without the presence of his mother or legal council, exists. And, in his signed confession, Davontae claimed that he’d committed the murders with a different weapon than the one which was actually used by the killer. In spite of this, however, Davontae was convicted and sent to prison, where he’s been sentenced to serve from thirty-seven to ninety years. And, that’s not the worst of it. Just months after being sent to prison, an imprisoned hit man by the name of Vincent Smothers confessed to having committed the drug-related killings. Furthermore, he says Davontae had nothing to do with it… Everyone, it would seem, knows that this young man is innocent, and yet he remains in prison…

And I should add that Davontae is still in prison today.

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[The above image was taken from the Huffington Post feature referenced above.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Confederate flag burning at Water Street Commons tomorrow night


I know it’s unlikely that many readers of this site have Confederate flags just laying around, but, if you should happen to have one, and if you should want to burn it, like minded people will be gathering at Water Street Commons tomorrow night with everything one might need to set offensive flags ablaze. So, if you inherited one from a grandfather down south, had one given to you by an uncle during the heyday of the Dukes of Hazard, or maybe used to be a racist who has since had a change of heart, come on down and join your Ypsi Arbor neighbors who, like you, feel as though it’s time to officially bring the Civil War to an end and move on as a nation.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the Confederate flag, you should know that, despite claims to the contrary, it was never just a symbol of “southern heritage”. The following comes from The Week.

…(H)istory is clear: There is no revolutionary cause associated with the flag, other than the right for Southern states to determine how best to subjugate black people and to perpetuate slavery.

First sewn in 1861 — there were about 120 created for the war — the flag was flown by the cavalry of P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederacy’s first duly appointed general, after he took Manassas, Virginia, in the first Battle of Bull Run.

After the Civil War, the flag saw limited (and quite appropriate) use at first: It commemorated the sons of the South who died during the war. We can easily forgive the families of those who died for grieving. No account of the Civil War can be complete without noting how vicious the Union army could be, and how destructive its strategy toward the end of the war had become. That the cause of the war, once the damned Union army actually invaded the South and started destroying it, came to be associated with an actual, guns-out defense of real property and liberties — mainly, the liberty not to die during a war — is not controversial. That’s what happens during wars.

But never did the flag represent some amorphous concept of Southern heritage, or Southern pride, or a legacy that somehow includes everything good anyone ever did south of the Mason-Dixon line, slavery excluded.

Fast-forward about 100 years, past thousands of lynchings in the South, past Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson, past the state-sanctioned economic and political subjugation of black people, and beyond the New Deal that all too often gave privileges to the white working class to the specific exclusion of black people.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president’s powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party’s somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag’s recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else…

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, I’d suggest reading our last conversation about the Confederate flag, and the essay “It’s Time to Burn the Confederate Flag.” And, if, after that, you still don’t feel compelled to carry your flag to Ypsi and set fire to it, maybe consider just coming out anyway, and listening to what others have to say about the flag and what it says to them. What could it hurt, right?

[Check out the Facebook event page for more information.]

Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

The somewhat more real Stephen Colbert introduces himself to America by way of Monroe public access television

When it was first announced that David Letterman would be retiring and that Stephen Colbert would be leaving the satirical Colbert Report to take his place at the helm of the Late Show on CBS, a lot of people, myself included, wondered how he would navigate the transition from fictional conservative pundit to something more resembling himself… how he’d convince the fans he’d made portraying a pompous, Bill O’Reilley-esque caricature of a Fox News pundit to follow him to a venue where they, perhaps for the first time ever, would be hearing him speak in his own voice. And, I guess, we found out the answer… or at least part of the answer… last night on Monroe, Michigan’s public access station, MPACT.

Here’s what the people of Monroe saw at midnight… and it was brilliant.

When I say that it was brilliant, by the way, I don’t mean that it was hilariously funny. It wasn’t. But I don’t think that was the point.

Colbert’s episode of “Only in Monroe” showed heart. And it did so while being cleverly subversive, which isn’t all that easy of a thing to do. And, most importantly of all, it gave Colbert an opportunity to let people see a little more of himself, even though, to a great extent, he was still hiding behind a character… And, from the perspective of a person who works in marketing and communications, I think it was an incredibly smart move.

Not only did Colbert show a bit more of his true self in hosting “Only in Monroe,” but he also kind of picked up the Letterman mantle by repositioning himself as an industry outsider looking to explore the boundaries of the medium.

When Letterman first came onto the late night scene, he did so as an outsider. He portrayed himself as a young guy who, through some freak occurrence, had found himself with access to studio, and intended to have as much fun as possible before the powers-that-be found out and pulled the plug. It was a huge breath of fresh air. And, judging from what I’m seeing here, I think Colbert is trying to tap into that same spirit.

As it turns out, a friend of mine grew up in Monroe and knows people at the station. So, as soon as news broke this morning, I began to hear the details. Colbert’s team, it would seem, had gotten in touch with folks at the station a week or so ago, saying that they’d picked Monroe at random and Colbert wanted to come in and host an episode of “Only in Monroe.” So, on Monday, Colbert, “a team of 10 or 11 writers,” and their crew, rolled into Monroe and got to work. [Word is that the writers were Colbert Report alumni who would now be moving with him to the new Late Night show.] Working with MPACT staff and volunteers, they shot 4 hours on Monday, another 8 yesterday, and last night at midnight the program went live on the local station.

Here’s the MPACT staff along with Colbert, who one of the camera operators described online as being “personable, gracious, (and) down-to-earth.”


While they knew that Colbert was going to be in the studio, it was apparently a complete surprise that Eminem would be joining him. “He rolled up with an entourage of six bouncer types,” I was told, “and did a ton of material with Colbert that got cut, including a riff where Colbert told Mathers he could probably get him a guest spot on a CBS cop show, and that he’d make a great dead body.” [If you just want to see the segment with Eminem, who Colbert introduced as a “local Michigander who is making a name for himself in the competitive world of music,” click here.]

I could go on, but I need to drive to Monroe now. Apparently there’s a giant check with my name on it… Apparently I’m being rewarded for my Yelp review of Jerry’s Frenchtown Bar and Grill, wherever that is.

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[And, yes, it’s been mentioned to me that this edition of “Only in Monroe” is somewhat reminiscent of the Saturday Six Pack. I think that’s a compliment, but I’m not sure. It also makes me wonder what I might be capable of with a staff of 10 or 11 writers.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Pop Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, calling the Supreme Court “lawless,” tells the bigots of his state that they do not have to issue same-sex marriage licenses

According to the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, the “judicial activists” of the United States Supreme Court, in deciding in favor of marriage equality last Friday, “ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist.” And, as that’s the case, he’s just announced that the good Christian men and woman of his state cannot be compelled to marry same-sex couples, or, for that matter, even issue them licenses. Here’s a clip from the letter he issued today, followed by the opinions of a few legal scholars.

…Friday, the United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist. In so doing, the Court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live.

Indeed, for those who respect the rule of law, this lawless ruling presents a fundamental dilemma: A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is considered the law of the land, but a judge-made edict that is not based in the law or the Constitution diminishes faith in our system of government and the rule of law.

Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. Here is where things currently stand:

Pursuant to the Court’s flawed ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued an injunction against the enforcement of Texas marriage laws that define marriage as one man and one woman and therefore those laws currently are enjoined from being enforced by county clerks and justices of the peace. There is not, however, a court order in place in Texas to issue any particular license whatsoever – only the flawed direction by the U.S. Supreme Court on Constitutionality and applicable state laws.

Importantly, the reach of the Court’s opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty. Even the flawed majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges acknowledged there are religious liberty protections of which individuals may be able to avail themselves. Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes. While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last…

For those of you who would like more, a scan of Paxton’s entire letter can be found here… For those of you who would like less, here’s his summary.

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I’d like to think that Paxton and his ilk would be shut down quickly, but it would seem, based on the opinion of some, that it might not be that easy. The following comes by way of the Washington Post blog.

…Professor Daniel Pinello of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York noted by e-mail that Texas is under no immediate obligation to issue licenses, because the Court’s decision last week only applies to the 6th Federal Circuit. Texas is in the 5th Circuit — but that circuit will likely soon issue a ruling following with the new decision. Once it does, he writes, “I’m aware of no general legal doctrine or precedent holding that county or other public officials are exempt from abiding by rights articulated by the Supreme Court in the event the religious beliefs of those public employees are in conflict with the federal right.”

Ruthann Robson, distinguished professor of law at the City University of New York, explained the question at greater length when we spoke by phone. Whether or not an individual county clerk is allowed to deny a license on religious grounds “is still unresolved,” she said. When New York passed its same-sex marriage law several years ago, some clerks resigned rather than issue licenses after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said that accommodation was not an option. In Alabama earlier this year, however, the high court allowed religious objections. (Paxton himself notes that clerks deciding against issuing licenses “may well face litigation and/or a fine.”)

For an accommodation to be made, certain questions arise. “Is their religious belief substantially burdened?” Robson asked. “Is it overridden by their status as a public employee? Where is that line? Because as a public employee, you swear to uphold the Constitution.” Public employees “don’t have full 1st Amendment rights,” she said, “because it’s balanced against the interest of their employer, which in this case is the government.”

What’s not allowed, in Robson’s estimation, is for a clerk to shut down the issuance of licenses across the board over a personal objection. “The question in terms of accommodation has to do with individuals,” Robson said. “So if the entire courthouse closed, that would not be an accommodation.”

In that case, the Supremacy Clause kicks in.

The Supremacy Clause, in Article VI of the Constitution, delineates that the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.” Tension between the power of the federal government and individual states is as old as the country itself. Even when something is mandated by federal law — or by the Supreme Court — states have often tried to work around it. The most prominent examples center on the tension over slavery that led to the Civil War and, in the war’s aftermath, the South’s treatment of black Americans…

For what it’s worth, people used to defend slavery and segregation by pointing to the Bible as well. And I’m sure there were teachers at schools throughout the south who, if given the opportunity, would have refused to educate black students on the grounds that having to treat them as human beings would somehow violate their religious freedom. Thankfully, I don’t think they were given that option. And I’m of the opinion that we should do everything in our power to see that it doesn’t happen now. Personally, I’d like to wake up tomorrow morning and see footage of gay couples being escorted into Texas courthouses by federal troops and camera crews the same way that, in the late ’50s, we opened up the schools of the south to black students. I want to see these last hateful gasps of institutional bigotry squashed early and decisively. If the so-called Christians of our nation’s most backward state don’t like it, so be it.


[above: In 1957, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division into Arkansas to protect the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to enter Little Rock’s Central High.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Totally Quotable Arlo: long shadow edition


We went to the lake yesterday and stayed a little longer than we’d planned to. By the time we finally packed up and left, the sun was going down, and, on the way to the car, Arlo noticed that his shadow had grown since he’d seen it last. “My shadow’s a grown-up,” he said.

I was tempted to make up a reason for his shadow’s rapid aging, but instead decided to tell him the truth. So I knelt down, and, to the best of my ability, tried to explain why it is that our shadows grow longer as the sun moves closer to the horizon.

And should have stopped there.

But, as I felt that he understood me, I decided to press on and add that the sun, in fact, wasn’t moving at all, but that we were. And I could tell from the look on his face that I’d gone too far. While he could comprehend how shadows might change with our relationship to the sun, he just wasn’t ready to accept that that the sun doesn’t really rise and set at all, but that we’re spinning around it. So I decided to cut my losses, challenging him instead to see if he could outrun his shadow.

The next several minutes were spent watching him zig zag around the park looking over his shoulder and breathlessly yelling out, “It’s… still… there.”

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments


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