Totally Quotable Arlo: Fighting Evil with Splinters edition


We’ve spent a good deal of time this past year attempting to steer Arlo away from guns. We haven’t been terribly successful, in that he still runs around pretending to shoot things, but, if you ask him what he’s doing, he’ll usually explain to you that the guns he’s pretending to shoot don’t actually fire bullets, but other things that do considerably less harm… Yesterday morning, when he was standing at the end of my bed making gunfire sounds, I woke up and asked him what it was doing, and he told me that he’d created a gun that shoots sticks. The idea, he told me, was to give bad guys splinters. I found the idea so innocent and beautiful in the context of what we’ve been living through lately, that I rolled over, took a photo, and wrote down his quote so that I wouldn’t forget it. “How cool would it be,” I thought, “if that was the worst thing that we could think of to do to one another?” Then I went back to bed.

[And I know that “beautiful” is probably the wrong word. This gun of his was still intended to do physical damage. It’s not like he’d designed a weapon that projected something truly lovely with the intention of stopping evil doers in their tracks, like flower blossoms, or the smell of rain on a hot summer day. Still, though, compared to armor piercing bullets, I think it’s a step in the right direction.]

Speaking of Arlo’s ability to devise new weapons, did I ever tell you about the helicopter that he’d built with a hidden alligator compartment? The idea, he told me, was that you’d fly over “bad guys” and drop alligators on them.

[If you’ve got a few extra minutes, check out our Totally Quotable Arlo archive.]

Posted in Mark's Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a good thing that people will be able to bring automatic weapons to the Republican National Convention. You never know when a terrorist might smuggle in a tennis ball or a long piece of string.


I walked by a television this afternoon that was tuned to Fox News. The man being interviewed, a law enforcement professional of some kind, was explaining that, while people were welcome to bring their semiautomatic rifles to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week, police would be confiscating tennis balls and any number of other items. Well, when I got home, I found the list… And, here, for those of you headed to Cleveland for the festivities, are the 72 items banned from the area surrounding the Republican National Convention.

Lumber larger than 2 inches in width and 1/4 of an inch thick
Air rifles
Air pistols
Paintball guns
Blasting caps
Switchblade knives
Automatic knives
Knives having a blade 2.5 inches in length or longer
Billy clubs
BB guns
Pellet guns
Wrist shots
Metal knuckles
Nun chucks
Iron buckles
Axe handles
Sound amplification equipment
Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
Containers of bodily fluids
Aerosol cans
Pepper Spray and other chemical irritants
Umbrellas with metal tips
Water guns
Water cannons
Ropes in lengths greater than 6 feet
Chains in lengths greater than 6 feet
Cables in lengths greater than 6 feet
Strappings in lengths greater than 6 feet
Wires in lengths greater than 6 feet
Strings in lengths greater than 6 feet
Lines in lengths greater than 6 feet
Tapes in lengths greater than 6 feet
Glass bottles
Light bulbs
Ceramic vessels
Bicycle locking devices
Chain locks
Gas masks
Sleeping bags
Sleeping pads
Bivy sacks
Ice chests
Backpacks and bags exceeding the size of 18″ x 13″ x 7″
Non-plastic containers, bottles, cans, or thermoses
Grappling hooks
Canned goods
Tennis balls

I know I should be writing about how insane it is that tennis balls aren’t allowed while loaded assault rifles are, but all I can think about is how they came to determine that string, when it exceeds 6 feet in length, becomes a security concern. “Was there a meeting,” I wonder, “where string of various lengths was laid out, and a committee determined that 5 feet and 11 inches was safe, but that the additional inch made it deadly?” And how bad does it suck for those of us who love string that the founding fathers didn’t think to enumerate our freedom to cary it in the constitution? I’m temped to go to Cleveland with a 6 foot long piece of sting next week, just so that, when I’m inevitably stopped by officers, I can cut it in half on the sight of someone’s AR-15 and just walk right past them, knowing that, any time I wanted, I could just tie the two pieces back together again and cause all kinds of mayhem…

Also, a cestus is an ancient battle glove. Here’s an example.


No word why maces and iron maidens weren’t mentioned. I guess t’s safe to assume that they’re OK.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Paint Ypsilanti

This Sunday, as part of the Paint Ypsilanti Project, a lot of folks are going to be at 306 East Cross Street, painting the house of my friend Caleb Brokaw, who passed away this past November. If you would like to join us, check Facebook for the details. And, if you’d like to know more about the Paint Ypsilanti Project, here’s a quick interview with Erik Dotzauer, the man behind it.


[above: One of the houses worked on recently by Paint Ypsilanti Project volunteers.]

MARK: For those who may not already be aware, what’s the Paint Ypsilanti Project?

ERIK: The Paint Ypsilanti Project is based upon a really simple premise; we want to provide assistance to people in the community that don’t have the resources or the physical capacity to keep up with the maintenance of their homes. So our goal is to bring together volunteers and give them the tools necessary to beautify our neighborhoods.

MARK: And what kind of work do you and your volunteers do?

ERIK: We paint the exteriors of homes. We try to increase the curb appeal of the properties we’re working on by installing new landscaping, removing overgrown shrubs, and pulling weeds. At some sites, we remove quite a bit of trash. It just really depends, as each site tends to be fairly unique. One underlying constant, however, is that we use landscaping materials that require little maintenance for the homeowners, so the upkeep is reduced going forward… And, I should add, the program is 100% free for the families that participate.

MARK: How did it first get off the ground?

ERIK: As you may recall, the Depot Town Community Development Corporation (CDC) had an agreement with the City of Ypsilanti to operate and improve Riverside and Frog Island Parks up until we upset a bunch of folks by using the word “Ypsitucky” in the name of a festival. That set off a sequence of events that ultimately led to the City rescinding our contract. Well, we still had money in the bank and a board that wanted to improve our community, so we decided to keep going. But we had to start back at ground zero. We took some time off and explored a few ideas. We looked at existing service providers and tried to identify gaps that could be filled…. needs that weren’t being met in the community. For a while, we explored the idea of starting a tool lending library. Eventually, though, we found a program similar to the Paint Ypsilanti Project. We thought it might work well here, and we decided to run a pilot and see what kind of response we got.

MARK: You mention that this got started a few years back thanks to funds you still had in the Depot Town CDC account? What happens when those funds are depleted? Is there a desire to go after new grants and keep this going?

ERIK: Our goal is to raise enough money that we can keep this program going and hopefully add additional programs down the road. We’ve been developing new relationships with businesses like Thomson Reuters, and community partners like Concordia University. Thomson Reuters is now a sponsor, but their employees have also taken up the challenge, pledging to help us renovate 10 houses by August. This is a great illustration of why the Paint Ypsilanti Project works: Once people know about our mission, everyone wants to get involved. We’ve seen what can happen in our neighborhoods when everyone “gets their hands dirty”.

MARK: And how many houses have you worked on so far?

ERIK: We’ve painted 30 houses to date, and, of those, roughly 20 have had new landscaping installed.

MARK: How do you select the homes to be painted?

ERIK: There are a number of factors that we consider when evaluating applications. We choose families that don’t have the financial and/or physical ability to do the work themselves, and we give priority to seniors, veterans, and the families of individuals dealing with disabilities. We also take the condition of the home and the location into consideration. And we’ve also started focusing on specific areas, with the thought that we can have a greater impact if we focus on multiple homes in a given neighborhood. For example, by the end of this month, we’ll have renovated four houses on Nash Avenue, in West Willow.

MARK: So this isn’t just about Depot Town?

ERIK: Correct. Since the project launched, the majority of houses we’ve worked on have been on the south side of Ypsilanti, or in Ypsilanti Township. This year, we’ve expanded our geographic footprint to include a couple houses off MacArthur Blvd., in Superior Township.

MARK: So there was a deliberate decision made to broaden the scope?

ERIK: Yes. Our board went through a strategic planning process this past winter and decided that it made sense to look at the community in a more broad sense. And, in keeping with that, we decided to change the name of the organization to the Ypsilanti Area Community Development Corporation. This will hopefully eliminate some of the confusion that currently exists, and will better reflect our geographic service footprint. Our plans are to roll out the new name in the fall when the Paint Ypsilanti Project starts slowing down and we have enough time to handle the administrative and marketing tasks related to the name change.

MARK: What have you learned since setting out? How has the program evolved over time?

ERIK: We’ve learned a lot over the past couple years, I’d say the most difficult lesson was learning not to bite off more than we could chew. We renovated a couple of larger, historic homes in previous years and I underestimated how many volunteer hours would be needed to complete the work. As a result, I spent many evenings after work perched on a ladder until the job was done. As for evolution of the program, we are constantly making tweaks to every aspect of the process to fine tune things. We’re always looking to improve the process and find ways to leave these homes in better condition. We listen to the homeowners that we serve, and we listen to our volunteers. And we see lots of opportunity for continued growth, and, of course, the need for additional financial support to make that happen.

MARK: And do I understand correctly that you’ll be painting this Sunday?

ERIK: That’s correct, we’ll be working on a beautiful historic home just down the street from Depot Town. If any of your readers would like to join the fun, they can sign up and get all of the details on the Facebook event page.

MARK: And it is safe to assume that you’ve got work for people to do if they just show up to help?

ERIK: We have plenty of work to do, that’s for sure. This time, we recruited volunteers via Facebook, so we’re not quite sure what to expect in terms of turnout. I’d encourage anyone who is interested in helping, to just stop by and check it out. Even if someone only has a few hours to give, it would be incredibly appreciated.

Posted in Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nkrumah Steward on befriending the descendant of those who enslaved his ancestors, local African-American officers talk about life at the intersection of “black and blue”, and detective Ira Todd on the strange case of Davonte Sanford …on this weekend’s Saturday Six Pack


We’ll start off this Saturday evening’s episode of the Saturday Six Pack with Canton writer Nkrumah Steward. If Steward’s name sounds familiar, it’s likely because a recent story of his, about traveling back to the South Carolina plantation where his ancestors had been slaves, has spread like wildfire this past week. From People Magazine to ABC News, the story of Steward’s decision to initiate face-to-face dialogue with the current owner of the plantation, Robert Adams, a descendant of the individuals who had enslaved his family, has now been shared tens of thousands of times on social media. [The two men, as it would turn out, also happen to be distant cousins thanks to the fact that, in 1835, Steward’s 4th great grandmother, a slave named Sarah Jones Adams, had a child by Robert Adams, the man who claimed ownership over her.] If you’ve yet to hear Steward’s story, I’d encourage you to start with his blog, and then move on to Epoch Times, which has some of the better coverage I’ve seen thus far. And, of course, tune in this Saturday evening, when Steward and I will be speaking at length about the time he spent with Adams at Wavering Place Plantation, what he’s come to learn from the experience, and why it is, in his opinion, that the story of his journey seems to be resonating so strongly with people right now.


[above: Adams and Steward on the steps of Wavering Place Plantation in South Carolina.]

And, during our second segment, African-American Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department Deputies Eugene Rush, Jeremiah Richardson, and LaShane Bynum, and AAPD officer Jason Gold, will be joining me and Derrick Jackson to discuss what it’s like to be “black and blue” in today’s America.

Then, during our final segment, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be welcoming Detroit police detective Ira Todd into the studio to discuss the case of Davontae Sanford, the young man who was just recently released from prison after serving eight years for four homicides that he did not commit. Todd, as you might recall, is the detective credited with getting hitman Vincent Smothers to confess to the four murders, opening the door to the release of Sanford. Here, if you haven’t read it, is a clip from the New Yorker story from October 2012 that introduced the nation to the Davontae Sanford case. [It still amazes me that Sanford stayed in prison another three and a half years after this story ran.]

…Ten hours later, (Vincent Smothers) was at the Schaefer police station, in Detroit, in a room with a square wooden table and two black plastic chairs. He had been brought in to talk with Ira Todd, a member of the city’s Violent Crimes Task Force.

“What’s going on with you, man?” Todd asked.

“Nothing much,” Smothers answered quietly. A video of the interrogation showed him folding himself into the seat, his hands cuffed behind him. His hair was dishevelled, and he had thin sideburns and a mustache. He was wearing shorts and a black T-shirt.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of people about you, my friend,” Todd said, as he set up a camera to take pictures of Smothers.


“You’ve got troubles.”


“Major troubles. I figure you already know that,” Todd said. “We know that you are, per se, a hit man, a contract hit man,” he went on. “We know that you and somebody else were responsible for trying to take out three people—one girl that lived and she pointed you out.”

Smothers listened.

“We know that you killed a cop’s wife,” Todd continued. “We know that the cop hired you.” He said that Cecily had told the police about Rose Cobb’s murder, and was showing them weapons that Smothers had asked her to stash. But she had also emphasized that he was a great father to their children. If he coöperated, Todd would talk to the prosecutor on his behalf.

“I’m willing to talk to you about everything,” Smothers assured him. He asked what kind of trouble Cecily was in, and Todd hedged, telling him that asking her to hide weapons was a bad idea. If Smothers talked, he said, “I give you my word that we’ll look out for you.” Smothers cut him off, making clear that he wasn’t worried about himself; he wanted to make sure Cecily didn’t end up behind bars. “I can do forever,” he said. “But I couldn’t live with myself if she wasn’t able to raise those two little girls.”

Over the next twenty hours, Smothers talked. He combed through his memory, trying to keep the order of his hits straight. Toward the end of the interview, he mentioned the killing on Runyon Street.

“Did you hit somebody in there?” an officer asked.

“Yes,” Smothers responded.

“Male or female or what?”

“Three guys and, I believe, there was a female in the house.” Smothers described the scene in detail, mentioning that he had talked to a young boy before leaving with two thousand dollars, half a pound of marijuana, and a .40-calibre pistol—the one he said he later used to kill Rose Cobb.

“I really believe that Smothers was giving me the one-hundred-per-cent truth,” Todd told me. The information that Smothers gave about the eight other hits checked out. Todd has interrogated several hit men, but, he said, “Vincent was the first one I ever talked to who seemed human. You literally walked away saying, ‘Oh, my God, what happened to this kid?’ ”

As Smothers was finishing his confession, he asked to use the bathroom, and a sergeant, Michael Russell, escorted him there. Smothers told me that Russell said, “You said you did the Runyon job. That’s impossible. We got the guy.” (Russell denies having the conversation.) Surprised to have his confession second-guessed, Smothers gave details, mentioning the people in the living room and his discussion with Glover in the back room. “He looked flabbergasted,” Smothers told me. “He said, ‘A kid confessed to it.’ ” Seven months before, a young teen-ager named Davontae Sanford had told the police that he was responsible for the killings. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s really messed up,’ ” Smothers told me. “He wasn’t there.”…

And, assuming he’s willing to talk about it, I’d also like to ask Todd about his investigation into the 2003 murder of exotic dancer Tamara “Strawberry” Greene, his work on the AMC show Low Winter Sun, and his efforts to exonerate David Beeks, another man wrongly convicted of murder in Detroit. But we’ll have to see how much time we’ve got.


Unless you live inside the AM 1700 studio, chances are you won’t be able to pick the show up on your radio. As that’s the case, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

Oh, and if you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing.

And, here, thanks to AM 1700 senior graphic designer Kate de Fuccio, is this week’s poster, in case any of you want to print copies and leave them at one of your favorite highway rest areas.


And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please copy down this number and slide it into your sock – 734.217.8624 – and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, The Saturday Six Pack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy chooses not to pursue perjury charges against former Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert for his role in the framing of Davonte Sanford


Over the past five years, I’ve written quite a bit on this site about a young man by the name of Davonte Sanford. [Sanford is pictured above.] As you may recall, Davontae, who is developmentally disabled and blind in one eye, was taken into police custody in Detroit at the age of 14 for the murder of four people and eventually sentenced to serve from thirty-seven to ninety years in prison. This, as you might also recall, happened in spite of the fact that he was questioned for hours on end without the presence of his mother or legal council, and signed a typed confession stating that he’d committed the murders with a different weapon than the one which was actually used by the killer. Well, now that Davontae has been found not guilty of the charges, and set free from prison after having served 8 years of his sentence, we’re beginning to get a better sense of how it came to pass that he was framed for murder. Most notably, based on conflicting testimony given by former Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert over the past several years, it would appear that the crime scene drawing submitted into evidence along with Sanford’s coerced confession was in fact not drawn by the 14 year old, as we had been told, but by the officers who interrogated him. In fact, perjury charges were recently leveled against Tolbert, and many felt that Sanford might finally see justice served. Unfortunately, though, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy decided yesterday not to issue a warrant against Tolbert, saying that she couldn’t prosecute, given that Sanford had refused to testify agains the officer… The only problem is, Sanford says he told Worthy no such thing. He would have gladly helped the prosecution, he told reporters today.

Sanford, for what it’s worth, thinks he knows why Worthy chose not to pursue charges against the officer. “I think the main reason she didn’t want to charge Tolbert is because, you got to think about it, if he lied on my case, how many other cases he did lie on?” he said. “I don’t think she wants to deal with that.”

Here’s footage from Channel 4:

It’s also worth noting that Kym Worthy only released Sanford from prison when she was forced to by Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan. In spite of the fact that professional hitman Vincent Smothers had come forward in 2008 to say that he had been the murderer, Worthy allowed Sanford to stay in prison until she had no choice but to free him, fighting his release at every turn.

It’s not a confirmed yet, but it’s possible that I will be talking about the Davontae Sanford case on the radio this Saturday evening. Stay tuned for details.

[Here, for those of you who are interested, are some of our earlier posts on the Davontae Sanford case: The strange case of Davontae Sanford; Davontae Sanford, in prison for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit, finally gets national exposure in The New Yorker; Making the front page of Reddit with my post on Davontae Sanford; Disturbing video surfaces of Davontae Sanford being forcefully subdued by prison guards at the age of 16; Davontae Staford, framed for four murders at the age of 14, is scheduled to return home tomorrow after serving nearly 9 years in prison.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments


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