Thursday, October 16, 2014

Toronto Detectives Raced to Stop SARS Virus in 2003

By DeNeen L. Brown

TORONTO, May 10 -- The disease investigator was anxious. A terrifying, invisible illness was spreading like a predator in the city. It was already days ahead of him, and the detective knew he had just hours to catch up with it before it killed again.

But on this day in mid-March, Mark Bartlett had few clues to work with. Public health officials in Toronto had only recently begun to suspect that the disease here might be associated with the one that was already ravaging parts of Asia and had just been given a name: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Bartlett and a health inspector, Henry Chong, both from Toronto Public Health, entered a suburban townhouse looking for clues to what killed one of its residents, a 78-year-old woman who had recently visited Hong Kong. They also were hunting for airline tickets or anything else that would indicate whether she had transported a deadly disease to Toronto on a jet from Hong Kong, where SARS cases were numerous, and who else might have been on that plane.

Their search and those conducted by other public health officials around the city eventually led to the containment of SARS in Toronto, not by solving the scientific mystery surrounding the disease but by tracing the people who were carrying it. Old-fashioned, gumshoe detective work -- finding people and isolating them -- was instrumental in stopping the disease’s spread.

Toronto had become the epicenter of the biggest outbreak of the virus outside Asia. Twenty-three people died in the city, more than 300 were infected -- half of them health care workers -- and 10,000 were quarantined. Before the danger was considered to have passed, public health investigators worked morning to night, interviewing hundreds of people, probing their faulty memories, backtracking, looking at diaries, using a police database, breaking into buildings -- following any lead that might reveal the path of the killer disease.

“If we didn’t contain it, it had the potential to spread,” said Colin D’Cunha, Ontario’s commissioner of public health. “One simply could not predict the consequences of that. We had the opportunity to catch it in Toronto, and if we didn’t catch it, it had the potential to spread in North America.”

In Toronto, where more than half the population was born elsewhere, public health officials thought they were prepared to deal with contagions brought from countries where infectious diseases have not been eradicated. But this microbe, whatever it was, baffled them

“We didn’t know at the time whether it was bacteria or a virus,” said Bonnie Henry, associate medical officer of health for Toronto. “We weren’t sure what the incubation period was. We weren’t sure quite how it was transmitted, whether it was droplets, whether it was contact or whether it was airborne. There was no way to tell whether someone had been exposed and was not yet ill. There is no test to tell if somebody was going to get ill. There is no way to tell if they actually have the disease. There was no treatment and no vaccine.”

When Bartlett and Chong searched the townhouse in the suburb of Scarborough on March 17, they knew that one of its residents, Sui-chu Kwan, had died on March 5, 11 days after flying home from Hong Kong. They also knew that her son, who had picked her up at the airport, had died a week later. But they didn’t know when the woman had contracted the disease or when she was most likely to have passed it to others.

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“It was unclear whether the woman, who had died at home, had been ill prior to leaving Hong Kong,” Henry said. “So we were concerned about the flight.”

They swept the room with their eyes, scanning for subtle clues in much the same way that a detective dusts for fingerprints. “At that point in the chronology, we were looking for anything out of the ordinary,” Bartlett said. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

While Bartlett went from room to room, Chong checked the air in the house for carbon monoxide or any other gases. They looked in the kitchen, then went up to the bedrooms.

“You never know when you are going in someone’s house what you might run into,” Bartlett said. “There were many unknowns. The main thing was: Was there going to be something there that was critical that I wouldn’t pick up on? When you are dealing with the unknown, there could be something there causing a problem, but it looks normal.”

Bartlett looked in the bedroom, under the bed and finally in the closet. There sat the luggage from the trip. The baggage tags were still attached to the handles. A passenger list was quickly secured, passengers were contacted, and none was found to have been infected. That meant that Kwan was unlikely to have passed the disease to anyone until after she had reached Toronto, which sharply narrowed the number of threads the investigators had to follow.

Bartlett’s discovery did not end the SARS crisis in Toronto. But along with clues turned up by other investigators, it helped focus the effort to contain the disease. There was still work to be done.

Odyssey of a Killer Microbe

The story of how the virus came to Toronto begins with Kwan, a 78-year-old woman who immigrated to Canada years ago.

On Feb. 11, she and her husband flew to visit their son, who lived in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, according to Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The couple’s Continental Airlines vacation package included a pass to stay six nights at a hotel of their choice.

After staying at their son’s house for six days, they decided to take advantage of the hotel offer. They chose the Metropole, which promised “elegantly appointed” rooms and a stunning view of the city. They checked in on Feb. 17.

They checked out Feb. 21, the same day a professor from China’s Guangdong province checked in. The professor had been looking after people in Guangdong who were suffering from a deadly new illness, identified only as an acute respiratory syndrome. By the time he checked into the Metropole, he was already feeling quite ill. He was assigned a room on the ninth floor, the same floor as the Kwans.

The next day, the professor checked out and went to a hospital, where he subsequently died. The professor became the index case, or the first carrier of the disease, in Hong Kong.

No one knows whether Sui-chu Kwan met the professor, rode the elevator with him or simply touched the same elevator button.

“Knowing what we know about contact spread . . . they might have shared the same elevator ride,” Low said. “It might have been the professor contaminated the elevator button with the virus they might have subsequently acquired. He was responsible for nine other cases of SARS that went on about the world.”

Kwan and her husband returned to Toronto on Feb. 23. Her son picked them up at the airport and drove them to the townhouse they shared with two sons, a daughter-in-law and a 5-month-old boy. “She looked like she was just tired from the flight,” said Low, who talked to family members. But by the following day, she had started to develop what appeared to be a chest cold. She went to her family doctor, who told her she had the flu and prescribed antibiotics. But Kwan, who had diabetes and heart disease, became increasingly ill.

Wednesday, March 5: Kwan died in her sleep.

Paramedic Wayde Lansing remembers getting the call at about 6 that morning. “I was at ground zero with the very first patient,” he said later. Lansing recalled that Kwan’s husband sat next to her in her room. He remembered her two sons mourning. But he could not recall the face of the woman who would come to be known as Patient 1. He said it was a coping mechanism he used in his job. Otherwise the faces of the dead “would haunt me,” he said.

It appeared Kwan had died of cardiac arrest. People often die of heart attacks early in the morning. Lansing needed to call the coroner, but his cell phone was not working. He remembered asking to use the phone in the townhouse. It was the same phone that Kwan’s son used to call 911. It was the same son who had just given his mother mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

By habit, Lansing used a tissue to wipe off the phone, but it was just an ordinary tissue, not the type soaked in antibacterial chemicals that promises to clean 99.9 percent of germs. “I called the coroner. I offered my condolences. I shook hands with the young gentleman without gloves at this point,” he said.

Later, after Lansing came down with SARS-like symptoms, he would recall the visit to the Kwan house as the first of six calls he made over several days and the one that might have exposed him to a microbe that no one knew anything about.

Friday, March 7: Kwan’s eldest son, Chi Kwai Tse, developed a fever, cough and chest pain. He checked into Scarborough Grace Hospital, where doctors diagnosed pneumonia.

Tse spent the night on a gurney in the emergency room, waiting for a room in the crowded hospital. A thin, cotton curtain, only about six feet away, separated him from a 76-year-old man who was suffering from heart disease. The two never met, but they would later become known as Patient 2 and Patient 8.

Tse was finally transferred to intensive care, and doctors thought he might have tuberculosis. “It is a common diagnosis in that part of the city. We see a quarter of the cases of tuberculosis in the city of Toronto,” Henry said. “We have a large immigrant population here . . . and many people come from areas where tuberculosis is really common.”

That experience proved valuable in containing SARS. So did the time that many of them had spent in Third World countries.

“I had worked in Uganda during the Ebola outbreak. I did work with TB. I had a higher comfort level,” Henry said. Ebola was incredibly deadly, causing its victims to bleed to death, and Henry was not afraid of this new illness. She tracked people down and isolated them instead of sending her staff to do the work. “The initial interviews,” she said, “I did myself until we became more comfortable.”

Saturday, March 8: Tse’s condition deteriorated. He was having trouble breathing. His oxygen levels fell. Public health inspectors began an investigation for tuberculosis, trying to locate everyone Tse had been in contact with. But as the week progressed, it became more apparent they were dealing with something else.

“It wasn’t presenting like TB,” Henry said. “And his tuberculosis test came back negative. That made us think, ‘Wow, what else is going on?’ “

Meanwhile, Patient 8 was discharged.

Sunday, March 9: Doctors asked Tse’s family to come in for X-rays -- five adults and three children. “The doctor looking after the young man realized a couple of the family members were a lot sicker today than they had been, and he again called us and said there is something else going on here,” Henry said. “And we made arrangements to have four family members who were sick assessed at the hospital” in isolated rooms.

Monday, March 10: The X-rays showed that three out of four family members had signs of pneumonia. They remained hospitalized, and the doctor treating them suspected TB and ordered them to wear masks so they wouldn’t spread it.

That day, Patient 8 returned to the hospital with a fever. “More importantly,” said Low, “his wife came with him. She sat out in the waiting room and she was unwell. Not a lot of attention was paid to her.” She infected some of the other people in the waiting room. The hospital was eventually closed to contain the virus.

Patient 8 was moved to cardiology, where he infected unknowing doctors and nurses. One of the doctors transferred him to York Central Hospital, where the virus spread still further.

Wednesday, March 12: The disease now called SARS was taking such a severe toll in Hong Kong, southern China and Vietnam that the World Health Organization issued a worldwide alert: “Until more is known about the cause of these outbreaks, WHO recommends patients with atypical pneumonia who may be related to these outbreaks be isolated.”

But doctors in Toronto still did not connect Tse to what was happening in Asia. “The pieces of the puzzle were not filling in here,” Henry said. “This man had not traveled in many years out of Canada. This was a man whose mother had died at home, at the time thought to have died of a heart attack.”

James Young, Ontario’s commissioner of public security, said Toronto had bad luck. “Unfortunately for us, it was described one day on the Internet, and the next day it showed up in the hospital. Even if we read it on the Internet and asked [Tse], ‘Had you traveled?’ his answer would have been no. It was detective work by public health that figured that out.”

The other bad luck for Toronto, Young said, was that Tse was highly contagious. “He was a super spreader.”

Thursday, March 13: Tse, Patient 2, died. By now, public health officials were beginning to suspect his death was connected to the atypical pneumonia outbreak in Asia. Interviews with the family offered the first sign that his mother had just returned from Hong Kong.

“At that time, our primary concern was people who had contact with the young man and mother before her death who might be out in the community,” Henry said.

Medical detectives fanned out across the city, carefully interviewing people who were possibly caught in the web of the spreading virus. What had they done in the previous 10 days? Who had they lunched with?

Friday, March 14: Henry met with one of the Kwans who had been hospitalized on March 9, the daughter of Patient 1, to find out who had attended her mother’s funeral.

“I spent several hours Friday afternoon with her in ICU trying to piece together what had happened over the previous 10 days with her mother and brother,” Henry said. When Henry realized they might not be able to get all the names of the people who had contacted the family and who were at the funeral, she asked the daughter whether officials could release her mother’s name to the public. That would serve to warn anyone listening to radio or watching television that they may have been in contact with a new infectious agent. The woman, designated Patient 3, agreed.

“She is a heroic woman,” Henry said.

Public health officials held a news conference asking anyone who had contact with Kwan or her son to call a hotline.

Saturday, March 15: One of the first calls was from a doctor who had treated a member of the Kwan family. The doctor, a 37-year-old woman, would be identified as Patient 7. “The family doctor was admitted,” Low said, and soon other health care workers were reporting illness.

“It was that morning when a nurse just happened to mention to me she was somebody who never gets sick. She walked by me and said, ‘I had a temperature last night when I was on duty.’ She played it down, not realizing the significance of that,” Low said.

There were several doctors who had seen members of Kwan’s family. One of them, public health detectives discovered, was on a cruise with his wife, who was also his secretary. The doctor covering his practice had no idea where he had gone and didn’t have keys to his office.

Desperate to alert the doctor, health investigators tracked down a building manager, then a part-time secretary, then the doctor’s brother. But no one could produce keys to the office.

“We were very concerned about getting in contact with patients who had been in the office when this person had been there sick,” Henry said. “So we made arrangements with the brother and the part-time secretary and the building manager to break into the building.”

Soon it was clear that the investigators had made a start -- but the crisis was not yet over. The microbe was still moving ahead of them.

It took three more weeks, 246 more cases and 20 more deaths before, on April 29, WHO decided that the danger here had passed and lifted a week-old advisory against travel to Toronto.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A good whuppin’? Adrian Peterson child abuse case raises old debate

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer

Go outside and pick me a switch. And don’t pick a small one either.

That command, for many, is part of being black in America — part of a cultural tradition that sought to steel black children for the world, forge their characters, help prepare them for the pure meanness that waited out there, just because of the color of their skin. Many black parents who whipped felt more was at stake if they did not scourge their children.

Don’t get it wrong. The wielding of the switch and the belt and the wooden spoon is not a practice unique to

black people. Most races spank their children, especially Southern whites who are fundamentalist Christians. But the stories of beatings done in the name of love, beatings that were endured by many — not all — black parents, are like a familiar song. There are some bad associations with slavery. There are some good associations with survival.

Many black parents see what is happening now — the dope, the guns, the gangs — and they wonder what went wrong. When they came up, it didn’t matter what socioeconomic class, a whuppin’ was a whuppin’ — and it seemed that adults were in control. Now, old people are locked in their houses even in the middle of the day, scared to go outside, scared of the young boys up the street. When did the old people, who would switch you all the way home if you did wrong, fold up their chairs and go inside? Maybe when the whuppin’s stopped, the control stopped.

There was a ritual to whuppin’s, and many of that generation talk with a kind of bravado about this rite of passage to adulthood. They tell tales of out-of-body experiences, of spiritual epiphanies, of praying to God, of the art of tearful fakery, of agonizing defiance against belts, of loyalty among siblings and not breaking rank, of the time so bad a parent broke a switch on a child’s soft flesh. And they speak always of the wrong they committed and why they deserved it.

Spankings make up neighborhood legends and family folklore, comical and sincere. They connect folks, haunt them, set them up to wrestle over what they will do with their own children.

The questions are clear, the answers are not. Will the tradition continue? Will the law allow it? Should it continue? At what cost?

When she hung up from talking to the fifth-grade teacher, Armender Banks was sputtering with rage. For eight months, the tension had been building. Her 10-year-old daughter, Maria, had been “in a little rebellious mode.” She had been grounded. Television had been forbidden. Her bicycle confiscated. Extra book reports assigned. “I guess she thought she was grown,” Banks remembers. “We kept asking her, `What’s wrong? Why are you acting this way?’ “

On the afternoon of Feb. 9, Maria’s teacher from Assumption Catholic School in Peekskill, N.Y., called. “Didn’t you get the slips I sent home telling you about her behavior?”

There had been three — and neither Banks, a nurse, nor her husband, the Rev. Henry Banks, pastor of a small, nondenominational congregation, had seen any of them. Maria had forged her father’s and mother’s signatures. That evening, when Henry Banks came home, his wife was waiting in the kitchen to report Maria’s latest infraction.

She pointed upstairs: “Get her!”

Henry Banks, who has a soft, caring face and graying hair, didn’t like the idea of spanking his youngest daughter. But a God-fearing man has to do what a God-fearing man believes God tells him to do. Proverbs 19:18: Chasten thy son while there is still hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.

He loves Maria. He paid for her to go to parochial school when they could barely afford it. He paid for her to have a private tutor to help her with homework. He taught her the ways of the Lord and explained to her what could keep her from going to Hell. Her soul was his responsibility.

On his way upstairs, he counted the commandments the child had broken.

One: “Thou shalt honor thy mother and father.” Her behavior was out of control and there was no honor. Two: “Thou shalt not steal.” By forging their signatures, she had stolen “the integrity of our names.” Three: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” She had lied to her teachers and told untruths to her parents. Four: “Thou shalt not kill.” She had kicked another girl at the tutorial center. Any violence against humanity breaks this commandment.

“My daughter knows the commandments,” Henry Banks said. “We have taught her and she still disobeyed.” He was not angry. The Lord says not to hit in anger. He was hurt. When he climbed the walnut staircase and turned to his left, Maria was waiting. The father told Maria to take her clothes off and prepare for her “strikes.”

There would be seven, two for each commandment she broke. The final strike would be spared because God says have mercy.

“Get on your knees,” he said, without raising his voice, “in a praying position.” The little girl, who still wears pigtails, knelt beside her white canopy bed.

“She had on her panties and training bra,” her mother recalls.

Her father lifted his belt and it came down on her seven times. She yelled and she covered her bottom to break the strikes, but her hands did no good to ease the pain. The belt whipped her arms. She cried. The welts began to swell.

Proverbs 20:30: “The blueness of a wound cleanses away evil.”

The old people in the neighborhood used to say: “The police department finishes raising other people’s kids.” Another way of saying: If you don’t raise your kids right, you’ll lose them to the street corner.

As the debate rages across the country over whether to spank — as some Christian groups advocate the Bible-sanctioned striking of children, as the American Psychological Association releases its limited blessings on spankings, and more books and chapters are published — conversations in beauty shops, churches, living rooms and around kitchen tables start to sound like this:

“Kids these days just don’t know how good they got it. . . . I remember my daddy’s belt. . . . Look at them acting up. . . . They could use a good whuppin’.”

“It is a cultural thing,” says Russell Adams, chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. “There is almost a masochistic celebration that it happened, that it was good for me. They say it like an ordeal righteously survived. You get this kind of amen to the old days.” You know this is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you . . .

The whuppin’ ritual has certain theatrical elements.

First, the anticipation: “Oooooh, you gonna git it! Wait until your father gets home.”

Then, the interrogation: “Did you do that? No? Well, you are lying because so and so said they saw you.” Then there is the recital of the law of the house, the neighborhood, the universe: “Now you know better. How many times did I tell you not to . . . ?”

The next stage is the laying on of hands: In some families, the child is held, often producing a hopping dance around the pole that is the parent. In other families, the command is to freeze.

“You were supposed to stand there with your hands raised up in the air,” Adams recalls. “We called that the crucifixion position.”

The next thing is the art of the preemptive wail, often followed by: “I haven’t hit you yet!” Or: “Quit all that crying.” Or: “I’m going to give you something to really cry about.”

Cunning children always learn fast how much noise to make to receive mercy.

Adams: “There is always the outcry, `Mama, you are killing me!’ The crying is supposed to be a sign you got to me. You almost try to make the whipper feel wrong.”

Proverbs 13:24: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Henry Banks is sitting at his dining room table in his Victorian house in Peekskill, a small riverfront town. White, ruffled curtains cover the window. A white lace tablecloth protects the table. A worn King James Bible in big print sits before him.

His is not a dusty Bible. The scriptures are highlighted in blue, orange, yellow. Some are underlined in blue ink and red ink, indicating he has read them over and over again, consuming the Holy Writ, turning the meanings of the words over in his head.

Banks, 59, has been a minister for 15 years. Ordained by the Disciples of Christ in Brooklyn, he heads the Church in the Wilderness, whose 27-member congregation meets every Sunday right here in his living room. Spanking is a commandment, he says, not a choice.

He’s reading from the Good Book now.

“In the Old Testament, if a child is disobedient, he could be taken by his elders and stoned.” He is pointing to Deuteronomy 21, verses 18 through 23.

“It is not that easy to spank, believe me. But God tells you how, where and how many strikes. This is not something you play with.”

He is flipping through Proverbs, stops at 13:24 and reads slowly. He that spareth the rod . . .

This is a sermon he has preached many times.

The day after the seven lashes, Maria went to school. She wanted her teacher to know what had happened after that phone call — the impact of her words.

Maria asked her teacher for an ice pack.

The teacher sent the child to the nurse’s office. The nurse called Westchester County Child Protective Services, and an hour later, social workers came to the school and drove Maria away.

“If we didn’t believe there was a God, I would be in my grave,” her mother says now, recounting that awful time in February.

“For seven days,” says Henry Banks, “we didn’t know where she was. It was pure torture. They incarcerated my daughter.”

The Bankses found a lawyer though the 700 Club, a Christian television ministry. And they took the agency to court. Reveal Maria’s whereabouts, the parents demanded.

Armender Banks begins to cry, remembering how she could barely hold on during the separation from her daughter. “They are nothing but the Devil,” she says. “It’s a horrible thing.”

“It’s very evil,” her husband concurs. “Once they get a child into that system, you can’t do anything.” The authorities made it clear: Maria could not go home until her parents promised never again to spank her.

They refused. They were answering to a higher authority.

Ultimately, spanking is about control. Not just controlling your child, but running your household as you see fit –no matter what the nanny-state social planners and the supposed child-rearing experts have to say. But increasingly, parents who favor spanking are clashing with the law.

In Minneapolis, police are investigating the case of a 12-year-old girl who was whipped in church, in the presence of her congregation after she was suspended from school. In Florida, a pastor was arrested on child abuse charges after he spanked a 5-year-old child for refusing to eat a strawberry.

Any number of psychiatrists and pediatricians and social workers can be mustered to support either side.

“There is absolutely never any reason to hit a child or adolescent,” writes Irwin A. Hyman in his 1997 book, “The Case Against Spanking: How to Discipline Your Child Without Hitting.” Hyman is leading a national campaign to make spanking not only illegal in all public schools but at home as well.

“Every state I know of doesn’t allow foster parents to hit children,” notes Hyman, a psychology professor at Temple University and director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives.

“The only place you can legally hit kids is in schools and in the home.”

The debate on spanking escalated in the late 1970s as a number of states outlawed corporal punishment in public schools. Some states still allow, and even encourage, corporal punishment in schools, including Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky. A number of private and parochial schools also continue to spank.

In the past decade, advocates for spanking seem to have gained ground among parents — although earlier this year the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that spanking was “no more effective” than other forms of discipline and that corporal punishment has “negative consequences.” Conversely, the American Psychological Association, which has opposed corporal punishment in schools since 1974, recently decided not to condemn spanking in every circumstance.

Some academics believe that the history of spanking among blacks can be directly tied to slavery. Adams, the

Howard professor, argues that whippings — as an act of brutal control by white owners — spread into the black

culture on these shores.

“There is not a record in African culture of the kind of body attack that whipping represents,” he says. “The maintenance of order by physical coercion is rare in Africa.”

The custom may be connected to a desire by some blacks to be like the majority culture: “We have imitations, just as we have imitations with hot combs, from those who wanted to look Caucasian. I grew up at a time when people wore clothespins on their noses to make them smaller. We would go to the movies to see Hopalong

Cassidy and come back and compress our lips to make them smaller.”

Blacks and others who endorse spankings might be suppressing or rationalizing their pain, some psychologists suggest.

“Most of us must admit that the most indelible and most unpleasant childhood memories are those of being hurt by our parents. Some people find the memory of such events so unpleasant they pretend that they were trivial, even funny. You’ll notice that they smile when they describe what was done to them. It is shame, not pleasure, that makes them smile,” writes Jordan Riak, who heads Project NoSpank, a California advocacy group. Gary Ezzo teaches that a swat here and there on a child’s backside to prevent a dangerous situation is not child abuse. He’s the co-author of “On Becoming Babywise,” one of the top-selling books on child-rearing, and a franchiser of sorts when it comes to discipline. During the last 10 years, more than 1.5 million parents — most of them white — have used the Ezzo program in churches and Sunday school classes across the country. “Spanking is not a cure-all,” says Ezzo, who has been portrayed in the media — unfairly, he believes — as a pro-spanking spokesman. “While 85 to 90 percent of parents may be spanking, we in no way are saying they are all doing it correctly.

“We teach never to use a wooden spoon, never to use a father’s belt. . . . We teach never to slap a child in the face, never to spank them on bare skin. . . . The dignity of the child must always be preserved during any type of punishment. You should never ridicule a child, never attack their dignity as a human being.”

Ordinarily, juvenile cases are sealed by state law, but because Henry and Armender Banks made their case public, Westchester County prosecutor Alan D. Scheinkman will give the official side of the story:

“The school nurse observed the child and found reason to think there are reasonable grounds for child abuse. .

. . It was unrefuted testimony that the child was hit with a plastic belt that caused bruising and swelling.” According to Scheinkman, the Bankses initially agreed to allow Maria to stay with a “third party” while an investigation was conducted, but the “parents did not honor that agreement. And because the parents violated the agreement, that effected a removal of the child from the home, which is allowed under state law.” Removing a child from her home is not something county officials do lightly. Ted Salem, an associate commissioner in the county’s department of social services, says officials may investigate 5,000 reports of child

abuse and maltreatment any given year. “We will probably remove fewer than 250 children.”

Was Maria’s whipping excessive enough to qualify as child abuse?”

“The department has never brought a case against somebody based on a slap on the wrist,” answers Salem. Scheinkman says the law respects the rights of parents to raise their children. “The law becomes involved whenever a parent crosses the line.”

In a red brick building in Seat Pleasant, Md., several women in their twenties and thirties are gathered to receive lessons in what social service bureaucrats call “life skills.” This particular program will help them find jobs. They are doing double duty: Raising children on their own and trying to pay the bills. Keeping their kids in line is important.

Seated at a table at the side of the classroom, their teacher, Carol McCreary-Maddox, invites a discussion on how they intend to control their children while they juggle.

TuSheena Watson is remembering her parents’ house in New Jersey:

“They beat us for what we did — wrong things, for wrongdoing. And I appreciate it. I appreciated it then and I appreciate it now more than ever. And I know my other brothers and sisters do as well . . .

“When they took us anywhere, we were like soldiers, we were in line, respectful — and because of that I know right now to this day that’s why all the 10 of us had never been in trouble and incarcerated or any of the bad things.”

A woman named Beverly begs to differ. “My mother beat us and three are incarcerated and one is dead,” she says of her siblings. “When they got out of the house, they broke all the rules.”

Beverly is 34 now. She has three boys — 12, 8 and 3 months. She hated getting spanked by her mother. She believes discipline must be unwavering, but she is resolved not to spank her own kids.

“I don’t see how it helped me — not that it hurt me, but it didn’t help me,” she says. “Her spanking me . . . well, we called it beating when I was growing up because that’s what they were, a beating. All it did was make me scared to come to her with things.

“I don’t beat my boys because I don’t want them to feel like they have to beat a person in order to communicate with them, or to get them to do what they feel they should be doing.”

So how does she punish her older sons? For misbehaving in school last year, 8-year-old Jocque was confined to the house all summer. Totally grounded. He couldn’t go outside to play. No matter what, he had to stay inside.

McCreary-Maddox tells Beverly that some people might say confining a child to the house all summer is a more severe form of child abuse. She believes that a spanking provides an immediate lesson about what is right and what is wrong. “Kids need to know what the limits are. You don’t want a child growing up to think they can get anything they want and all that will happen is a good stern talking to.”

McCreary-Maddox has three children, ages 20, 17 and 12. She loves them all, and she has spanked them all –just as she was spanked as a child. She favored a wooden spoon. “Belts leave marks. I think there may have been a time when I used a belt, but suppose the buckle hits and they are scratched. That is not what you were intending to do.”

Her 12-year-old, Allyssa, sits still in the campaign office where her mother volunteers after class. The ponytailed girl freely offers this opinion: “I find it unfair when parents are allowed to hit when they get mad, but we aren’t able to do anything. Getting a spanking only makes me madder.” She is remembering the last one.

“I kicked this boy and I got suspended. She said go up to the room and I got a spanking. It didn’t really hurt, but I cried before she hit me.

“My cousin told me to say `Kunta Kinte,’ ” a reference to the scene in “Roots” in which a white slave owner tries to beat Kunta Kinte’s name out of him. “He did it when he was getting a whipping and his mother started laughing.”

That tactic didn’t work for Allyssa. Her mother still gave her the spoon.

Proverbs 23:13-14: Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Henry Banks presses those words on the thin pages of his Bible. The rod, he says, “that is like a belt, or a switch.”

After a series of court hearings and 28 days in which Maria was kept from them, the Bankses finally agreed they would not spank the girl. A judge agreed to return Maria to her home and scheduled the whole case for dismissal in December — if the parents abide by that promise until the hearing.

Banks says he had no problem agreeing because the judge understood the Bible, and further understood that spankings are not done spontaneously.

“Spanking is not the first thing,” the pastor says. “It is the last thing you do.”

Besides, Banks says, Maria is now 11 and soon she will reach her age of reason — 13 — at which point, he says, the Bible commands him not to spank.

Since Maria came home, there have been no major problems. She hasn’t had a need to be spanked, her parents say.

“She is scared she could be taken,” Armender Banks says.

Maria takes a seat in the corner of the living room. Her parents tell her it’s okay to talk about what happened to her. She is reluctant at first. She doesn’t want to discuss the time she spent in foster care.

“That’s in the past,” she says. “It was bad. I didn’t like it. There was a lot of cursing, drinking and piercing.” “Piercing?” her mother asks.

“Yeah, piercing body parts,” Maria says. “They tried to pierce me.”

“You see what can happen when a child is out of her household.”

Maria says she doesn’t even think much about the spanking that started this whole story. She fidgets and recites the Bible: ” `Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ That means give your children spankings. . . . They spank me because they love me.”

Maria asks to be excused. She is tall for her age, but inside she is still a child. It’s a Saturday; she wants to play.

She chases a friend into the kitchen and they beg for sodas, then run upstairs to watch television.

A few minutes pass and they run back downstairs, now wanting to walk to the riverfront for a festival. After a series of nos, then maybes, Armender and Henry Banks relent.

“But be back before the sun goes down.”

The parents keep talking, the daylight fades and Armender checks her watch: 8:45 p.m.

“The sun been done gone down,” she says. “Where is Maria?”

The mother climbs in her van, drives to the riverfront and scans the crowd. Neither the girl nor her friend is there.

“Maybe they already walked home,” Armender says.

She drives home and opens the screen door. The house is dark. Her husband comes in. He has not seen Maria either. It is pitch black in the foothills of the mountain-ringed town. Worry creases their faces.

This would be the perfect scenario for a spanking. But they are under court order.

They get back in the van. “Maria is going to be grounded for this,” says Armender, now riding in the passenger seat.

A block from the house, Henry Banks lowers his window. Two figures are walking slowly up the street.

“There she is.” He stops the van.

“You were supposed to be back before dark,” Armender says. “Get in the van.” “But we were walking back,” Maria pleads.

The father will hear no excuses.

“The next time you ask to go somewhere the answer is an automatic no,” he says.

He wheels the van slowly up a hill, his wife at his side, his daughter sitting in the seat behind him. He is still the father. He is still the man in charge of his household. But not totally. The child has disobeyed in a blatant, dangerous way. He thinks of the time she left the yard when she was 3 and her mother burned her legs up with a switch. After that, she never left the yard without permission again.

You can see the frustration in his face. He knows that girl could have used a good spanking.

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

DeNeen Brown Wins 2014 Salute to Excellence Award for Magazine Story

Magazines – General Reporting

People’s Inaugural Ball changed lives
DeNeen L. Brown
The Washington Post

 January 17, 2013  
Somewhere in the crowd that night stood homeless people, wounded service members, flood survivors. If you looked into the ballroom, it would have been hard to distinguish the millionaires from the people who had only pennies in their pockets. They would dine on lobster and steak, nibble on white chocolate. They would shake hands with celebrities and dance until night moved into day. No one would know that a ripple of change was making its way through the crowd that night, and that the People’s Inaugural Ball, celebrating the first African American president in U.S. history, would transform lives one by one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vancouver's Lost, Never Found Clues Are Scarce in Disappearances of 49 Prostitutes

Vancouver's Lost, Never Found

Clues Are Scarce in Disappearances of 49 Prostitutes

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Foreign Service

Friday, January 11, 2002; Page A01

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- They were standing on the corners of these stained streets, selling their bodies for a Canadian $10 bill. Then they were gone. Forty-nine women vanished. No blood. No saliva. No screams heard. No bodies. Just working aliases left behind, entangled with fragments of sad stories.

"How can no one see 49 women?" asked a woman who works these same streets today, some of the most vile streets in Canada, an underworld of drugs, heroin ghosts, prostitution, needles and violence.

"Like, where did they go?" asked the woman, who gave her name as Ann Bravo, 36. "Like, what happened to Laura, Laura, the one who had low blood pressure? What happened to Jennifer? Jennifer was the one who [gave birth] on the corner. What happened to Sara? Girls have disappeared and nobody has seen anything. This is really scary."

This is Vancouver's downtown Eastside, one of Canada's poorest postal codes, Vancouver's low track, as they say. People used to believe that those who ended up on these streets couldn't go any lower. They believed this until the mid-1980s, when prostitutes started vanishing.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver City Police say that if the same person killed all the missing women, the crime would rank among the largest serial killings in history.

Recently, police here began comparing notes with police in the state of Washington to find out whether a man charged in the so-called Green River deaths there also may be responsible for the 49 women missing in Canada. Gary Ridgway, 52, has been charged in four U.S. slayings after police discovered DNA evidence linking him to bodies found in or near the Green River, south of Seattle.

"He's been charged now with four murders of sex-trade workers. We have 49 missing. The natural assumption is he is a good suspect. But he is one of many suspects, and we have many good suspects," said Sgt. Wayne Clary, who works in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's unsolved homicide unit.

Still, in the 19 years since women started disappearing in British Columbia, no one has been arrested in the cases. Without bodies, police have little evidence to trace.

Investigators acknowledge that they don't really know how many bodies to look for. The transient lifestyle of prostitutes makes it hard to track them, and some of the 49 may still be alive and perhaps have moved to other cities, entered detox centers or taken new identities to leave their old lives behind. Still, authorities say that the pattern of women here one moment, gone the next, makes it clear that many if not all are dead.

The investigation goes on. "All we really have is a starting point: that area," Clary said. "They were last seen there. That's it. The place they call skid row."

They are targeted by "sexual predators," he said, the crime made easier because the women often work alone, without pimps, desperate for money to support heroin and cocaine addictions.

"They are the most vulnerable women," said Deb Mearns, coordinator of the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Safety Office, which provides support to crime victims. "If you want desperate women or a kid, this is the neighborhood. There are a lot of sexual predators out there."

Out there, outside her storefront office window, is a version of hell: addicts shooting up, threadbare hotels that charge hourly rates for nasty rooms with paper-thin walls, drug dealers doing business in the open, needles carpeting the alleyways, vomit, blood, rubber gloves, used condoms.

"There is hardly a legitimate business left. Most are tied into drugs, money laundering or stolen goods," Mearns said. "One scuzzy hotel room down here costs $325 to $350 a month. If you get $400 a month on welfare, you don't have much left. It's a pretty desperate existence. It's the highest concentration of SROs [single room occupancies] in Canada."

The rooms are at the bottom of the "slide," when addicts "go from using to really using," Mearns said. "A lot started off as children, running away from really horrific pasts. Many will say they are 15 or 16 when they started; by the time they are 30, they look 50."

The faces of the missing women peer out from the posters that police have put up in alleys and hallways. The images seem to be a collage of broken noses, collapsed veins, swollen eyes.

• JOHNSON, Patricia. DOB: 1975/12/02, last seen March 3, 2001. She smiles through what looks like a busted lip. Her eyes seemed to have just been healing from bruises.

• MAH, Laura. DOB: 1943/03/23, last seen Aug. 1, 1985. Her face seems to be lopsided and her cheeks are swollen.

• CRAWFORD, Wendy. DOB: 1956/04/21, last seen Nov. 27, 1999. She presses her lips together and looks into the corner of some unseen room, her skin is red. She is not smiling. Wounds on her face have not yet closed.

"Some of the women, you wouldn't notice them if you stepped on them," Mearns said. "They end up looking quite different from the pictures."

In the beginning, in 1983, when the first of Vancouver's prostitutes went missing, few people wanted to acknowledge the women were disappearing. Then an outcry came from women's groups, applying pressure on the police to take action. Now police put out the posters and a tip sheet for prostitutes about "bad dates," specific men who beat up women.

There is a man out there about 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 55 years old, with short gray hair. He met a prostitute in the "Pat Hotel bar." He took her to an alley, paid $10 to touch her. But when she tried to leave, he started hitting her face and chest. Then he took his money back and threatened to kill her if he saw her again.

There is another man about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 200 pounds, with long red hair and thick, black-frame glasses. He was wearing a green-and-black plaid jacket when he picked up a prostitute and offered her some crack. "He then said he was going to have to kill her," according to the sheet. "He began to suffocate her, when someone came along and chased him away."

Mearns said there are hundreds of predators. Some come in family sedans with baby seats in the back. The women are told whom to look out for, but there is no foolproof method for staying safe. "It upsets the women, but it really hasn't changed much," Mearns said. "The drugs take over and the fear isn't as great."

Dee Cyre, 26, was standing in the rain on the corner of Princess and Cardova. Underneath a candy-green umbrella, her black stockings were ripped. There were scars on her legs where cigarettes had been extinguished. She pressed her knees together, shifted her weight, feeling the cramps of a heroin craving. She stood there waiting for another customer to help feed her $150-a-day habit.

She knew about the missing women, but she stood there anyway. She called it an occupational hazard. "I've been on a couple of really scary bad dates," she said. "They use guns and knives. It's a pretty tough life out there." Her black mascara ran in the rain.

One of her bad dates was in his mid-forties. He had short hair and was clean-cut, but during an encounter in his car he revealed a bad temper. "He had a cell phone and his wife kept calling, asking when he would be home. He kept telling her 10 minutes. And he was sitting with me," Cyre said.

When he hung up, Cyre said, he started hitting her. She grabbed the gearshift, threw the car into park and opened the door. "The next night, they found a girl dead in the same area," Cyre said. "I figure that was him. I was lucky it wasn't me, but it could be next time. Every time you get in a car you are playing roulette. You never know if that is going to be someone that got those other girls."

A car stopped, an old Plymouth. Cyre got in before telling the end of her story.

Katherine Essex looked like a worried single mother standing on the corner. Her hands were in the pocket of her polyester-lined coat. She wore jeans and brown shoes. She and the other street workers down here don't dress up in tights and leopard skin. They are plain. They are the kind of women rejected by escort services and strip joints, a taxi driver says.

Essex said she commutes to this job from the suburb of Barnaby. She has two girls, 5 and 7. They live with her mother. This is the best work she can find. Essex said she knows about the missing women. She has had her own bad dates. "I ended up with one of the guys. He took me out and put a hood over my head and started strangling me," Essex said. "I pleaded with him and told him I had kids. He had taken me out before and he just let me go."

Now, she said, she only gets in cars with men she has been out with before. Better to get hit by a man she knows than one she doesn't, she said.

Ann Bravo stood down the street. Her mouth runs a mile a minute. She said all the women are petrified. Women are disappearing. A friend went to look for a friend and there was no sign of her. "She didn't open her Christmas presents and she didn't open her welfare check," Bravo said.

"Nobody cares," she continued. "Nobody does anything about it. Is this just one guy? Can one guy do such a horrible massacre?"

Her mouth moved fast. She kept turning, looking for customers. "These women were women just like us, except they are not as smart because they are dead."

It was still raining in Vancouver, a consistent rain. The streets were getting washed. One of the posters of the missing women slipped from the building upon which it was pasted. Inside her office, Mearns hung up a revised list of the bad dates next to the poster of 49 missing women.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Impassive Bystander Someone Is Hurt, in Need of Compassion. Is It Human Instinct to Do Nothing? By DeNeen L. Brown

The Impassive Bystander
Someone Is Hurt, in Need of Compassion. Is It Human Instinct to Do Nothing?
By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A woman sits alone on a gray chair in a psychiatric ward in a Brooklyn hospital. When we first see her, we do not know how long she has been sitting there. Suddenly, the woman collapses on her face onto the dirty floor.

We watch through a surveillance camera as she lies there, her blue gown above her knees, her legs convulsing. We watch as a guard comes into the room, puts his hand on his hip, looks at the woman, then looks up at the television hanging from the ceiling. Then the guard walks away.

We watch as two other patients sit across the room as the woman lies there. We watch them watch her.

The video, released recently on the Internet, documents the minutes the woman twists on the floor. She stops moving at 6:07 a.m. At 6:35 a.m. a hospital staff member comes in, nudges the patient with her foot. We hope the staffer will do something. But she walks away.

In the time that passes between action and indifference, between life and death, we wait before someone finally rolls in a blue gurney and oxygen tank, puts the woman on the gurney and rolls her away. Later we learn that Esmin Elizabeth Green, 49, an immigrant from Jamaica who moved to New York to make money to send to her children back home, is dead.

The camera goes black, leaving its viewers with the question: What might you have done?

* * *

Last month, the Hartford, Conn., police released a chilling video of a 78-year-old man trying to cross a street with a carton of milk. He steps off the curb just as two cars that appear to be racing swerve on the wrong side of the street. The first car swerves around the man. The second car hits him and throws him into the air like a doll, then speeds away.

What follows is even more chilling: People walk by. Nine vehicles pass him lying in the street. Some drivers slow down to look but drive away.

Again, we watch people watching him.

The man, Angel Arce Torres, lies in the street for more than a minute before a police car arrives. He remains in critical condition.

"This is a clear indication of what we have become when you see a man laying in the street, hit by a car, and people drive around him and walk by him," Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts will tell a news conference. "At the end of the day, we have to look at ourselves and understand that our moral values have now changed. We have no regard for each other."

Police later reported receiving four 911 calls, but still, no one stooped to hold Torres's hand until help came.

* * *

Now, you look on with all the brilliance of hindsight and say you would have done it differently. You would have called for help the moment the woman collapsed on the hospital floor. You would have pulled the man out of the street after the car hit him and other cars just passed him by.

Or would you?

Are you really as good as you think you are? Deep down inside, is there a hero waiting there or an apathetic little soul soaked in indifference?

* * *

Sociologists and psychologists have long studied what is known as bystander behavior. They say people are often unsure how to react to such events because they have difficulty processing what they are seeing. Witnesses to tragedy, especially when events are uncertain, often look around first.

If no one else is moving, individuals have a tendency to mimic the unmoving crowd. Although we might think otherwise, most of us would not have behaved much differently from the people we see in these recent videos, experts say. Deep inside, we are herd animals, conformists. We care deeply what other people are doing and what they think of us. The classic story of conformist behavior can be found in the 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, the 28-year-old bar manager who was slain by a man who raped and stabbed her for about half an hour as neighbors in a New York neighborhood looked on. No one opened a door for her. No one ran into the street to intervene.

Later, investigators would say that no single person saw the entire attack and some people misinterpreted the screams, but the case still prompted sociologists to study how the slaying could have happened on a populated street. The case produced a term -- the "bystander effect" -- to explain why people do not act when others clearly appear to be suffering in front of them.

"The larger question about the culture of indifference has a lot to do with bystander behavior," says H. Wesley Perkins, a professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, N.Y. "The bystander phenomenon is generated by the perception that other people are not doing anything about it, therefore I shouldn't either."

After the event is over and comes to greater public light, "people think everybody is mean and cruel-hearted and doesn't care," Perkins says. "But much of the bystander phenomenon happens because people are looking on and thinking, if they don't see someone else coming to the person's aid, then the person must not be in trouble."

But it's different when the bystander is a solitary witness: "They are more likely to come to another person's aid than if there are other people around and nobody is doing anything."

Most of us do the right thing only when others are doing the right thing. Real heroes are the ones who break out of the group norm. The predominant cultural impulse is for people to transfer responsibility.

People think: "If something happens, I am not really responsible for it," says Paul Ragat Loeb, a lecturer on ethics and author of "Soul of a Citizen."

Loeb gives an example of people who worked in a factory processing plutonium for nuclear weapons. He talked to the workers. "I said, 'Do you think it is a good thing?' They said: 'It's not my responsibility. I could be making light bulbs. I could be working in a coal plant.' What it was about was a separation of individual actions from potentially enormous consequences. They said: 'It doesn't really matter. It is the same thing as making light bulbs.' I said: 'No. It isn't the same thing.' "

There is another significant cultural view: that others will take care of it. Hey, I just gotta take care of me.

"We hope people do the right thing," Loeb says. "We hope someone takes care of the poor. We hope someone is going to take care of that woman [in the psychiatric hospital]. 'But I am not her relative. I'm not the doctor assigned to her case.' I would argue the medical personnel who encountered her had an obvious responsibility to do something. I would hope if I were sitting in that room, I would have gone up to the desk and said, 'This woman is convulsing. You need to call someone to take care of her.' . . .

"I spend my entire life trying to understand engagement and denial," Loeb says. "A sentiment a lot of people share is: It's not going to make any difference."

Lawyer Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, sued Kings County Hospital Center, where the woman died on the waiting room floor. She was appalled about the indifference of the hospital staff.

The lawsuit describes the hospital as "a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger." A place where people suffering are regularly ignored.

"This isn't about one rogue employee not doing his or her job, but we see one person after the other observing a woman . . . on the floor and doing absolutely nothing over a period of nearly an hour," Lieberman says. "You don't see one person after another failing to respond to a situation like this without wondering about the culture. The first question is: Is there a culture of indifference? The conclusion is inescapable that there is a culture of indifference."

After the video went public, six hospital employees were fired. A statement from the hospital's president said: "We are all shocked and distressed by this situation. What our investigation so far determined violates the basic principles of the compassionate healthcare practiced every day here at Kings County and across our public hospital system."

Back to the video: At 5:32 a.m., according to the time register, Esmin Elizabeth Green falls off her chair. What we don't see is that she falls right below an observation window.

"The professional staff can see what is going on," Lieberman points out.

Green also appears to be caught under a chair. She tries again and again to get up.

By the lawyer's count, at least four staffers -- including a doctor -- did nothing but watch.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

DeNeen L. Brown: U-Turn on H Street

DeNeen L. Brown: U-Turn on H Street
If you were eight blocks past uncertainty, three steps from neglect, five houses down from hope, and you just saw a white man with ear buds rollerblading past a crack house without looking up, would you know what street you were on in the City?
By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007 

A white woman and a little white girl are walking west on H Street Northeast, the 1300 block. Behind them, three black men are walking, not far behind, but close enough to invade their space, as if there is such a thing as personal space on a public sidewalk in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Three invisible men, residents who lived in the meantime, the in-between years when this street was desolate, neglected by the city, when some white people would not be caught walking in this block of H Street.
One black man shouts: "Ma'am, please tell your daughter she don't have to be afraid of us!" The white woman turns and smiles. It is not a nervous smile. But she does not slow her pace; this does not appear to be done out of fear but is more a pace one might keep while running errands on a busy afternoon. The little girl holds the woman's right hand.
The men continue, as if to prove something. "Ma'am," one of them says again, "please tell your daughter she don't have to be afraid on H Street."
The woman climbs into an SUV and drives away.
She is gone, and what remains is a question about what urban renewal has brought to H Street. What comes with the swarms of new, hip people who now walk the once desolate streets looking for the coolest bars, sleek in their leather and heels? Do they know the history, the riots after King's assassination, the white flight, or what happened in 1984 at Eighth and H to Catherine Fuller, a tiny cleaning woman found in an alley, her death too gruesome to recall the details -- the pipe, the beating, the dreadful era that followed?
At a party, a real estate agent, new in town, mentions she just sold a nice couple a fabulous house off H and Eighth Northeast. She is chirpy, as real estate agents must be, and she imparts that she is quite delighted with the sale. She is asked whether she knows what happened at 8th and H to Catherine Fuller. She says no. And you don't tell her. To provide the details would seem impolite in polite company.
Later, you stand on the street and watch, like the narrator in some novel, who knows more than the characters moving through the plot, through the street, but who must remain a distant storyteller. A witness to change. What does it all mean, this new mix on H Street? The Asian men in leather jackets and white girls in strappy dresses walking at midnight, unguarded? How do those who owned this street for so long share it with those just arriving?
Do the newcomers shop at Murry's: Your Neighborhood Food Store, where you go in one day looking for white grape juice and a clerk asks whether he can help you? And you tell him what you want and he says they only have what they have and what they have is not white grape juice. And you turn to leave and he yells, "But I can make some for you if you want me to." He smiles. And you wonder whether the newcomers would catch that kind of humor, appreciate that kind of street wit that doesn't come with a degree.
If one could enter the world of H, then perhaps one could understand this street, this place that is changing fast, like so many other corridors in this city, like so many corridors in the country: in Harlem, Detroit, Chicago. Change bringing with it newcomers, who want to fix things, change them into their own image. Bringing issues: stratification, generalizations, classism, police presence, rising rent, rising taxes, two-way streets becoming one-way, an invisible squeeze on loiterers, pushing them gently but insistently until they are no more. And the new neighbors push for a "quality of life" ban on single-sell alcohol, and the request turns into a discussion about race. And someone is complaining about Cluck-U Chicken, arguing it was not the kind of sit-down restaurant they wanted. Some neighbors say war has been declared on black Washington. And the neighborhood school gets new landscaping. Giant metal flowers grow. And there is a man hired to sweep H Street. So there he is on a sunny afternoon, trying to sweep the street with a broom.
On this street, what conversations would rise above the complicated questions of racism and classism, what would you hear at the Rib Tip, where the owner plans to sell one day and "leave everything behind but my dog and my wife," who takes her time cooking and tells her customers if they want fast food, they should go elsewhere? She didn't mind when a white man who moved in up the street came in one day and asked to inspect her kitchen and found it more than spotless. She says she didn't mind because she is fastidious about cleanliness and now the white man comes in the Rib Tip every day just about dinner time.
Divisiveness Is on the Table
Courtney Rae Rawls, 26, a bartender at the Argonaut Tavern, is one of those enigmatic people to whom lonely souls gravitate for conversation, inspired or not. She pours drinks, integrating brown liqueurs and white liquor. She is unencumbered in her brown skin, shaved head; she is confident, having graduated from the University of Michigan, where she protested against the assault on affirmative action there, then moved to this city with hope of a career in social work. The nonprofit she worked for lost funding, so here she is this night pouring drinks at a neighborhood bar, where the newcomers sit next to each other at the wooden tables, rub elbows, have their own Aquarius parties, fill up the loneliness of their nights.
So how, the bartender is asked, are people getting along on H Street? What is the real story? Rawls says most nights, things are cool. But she hesitates. Then she tells a story. She was serving some white patrons. They began writing on the table and she asked them to stop. They ignored her. She repeated: "Please, guys, quit writing on the table. Nobody wants to rub their elbows in chalk."
The customers laughed. They picked up the chalk again.
Exasperated, the bartender yelled: "Come on, ya'll grown people!"
A white woman at the table mocked: " 'Ya'll grown people!' What kind of language is that?"
Bartender: "What?!"
The woman: "You ought to be glad I bought a $500,000 house in your black ghetto neighborhood. "
Bartender: "I can't believe she just said . . . that. Hold me back."
And somebody did. And she didn't do anything she regrets. The unruly people left, called the police claiming they were victims of racism, and the next day they posted a bad review on a Web site.
Several months later, the bartender's anger still simmers. Can't explain what happened that night, why the chalk writer's words stay with her. Why the gentrifier had a need to assert herself, spew her thoughts of superiority and let the bartender know that it is she and others like her who are changing the neighborhood, and for that, the bartender should be grateful. "You ought to be glad I bought a $500,000 house in your black ghetto neighborhood."
The bartender, whose stepfather is white, a "sweet" man, refuses to break the whole thing down into a race issue. "What bothers me is it seems like the average person can't afford to live in D.C. anymore," she says. "I have two jobs. I'm not going to say it's a black-white thing because it is not that simple. But there is a pattern of young professionals moving into neighborhoods changing things."
The Squeeze
Scott Magnuson, 28, a white man who manages the bar, only heard about the chalk incident, but he believes he's seen enough to understand the tensions around race and class on H Street.
Gentrification is such a "strong word," says Magnuson, who lives on Linden Place. He is at ease here, he says. He gets his hair cut at the Perfect Cut. He says the men from the shop go into the Argonaut. "We laugh about the same things, football and video games.
"I don't personally see color. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around."
But he has heard things from both sides of the fault line. There are some whites, he says, who "try to put people down, the way people speak, how they dress." He doesn't want to repeat the words, for to say them aloud would allow them to pass through him.
But the words come from the other side too, thrown with equal force.
When he is walking home at night from the bar, sometimes he is confronted, mostly by high school boys. "They say, 'Hey, get out of my neighborhood. . . . You are not welcome in it.' "
Magnuson doesn't respond. "It has nothing to do with race," he says. "It's just boys trying to impress the pack. I'm not scared. I acted the same way when I was growing up in Virginia Beach."
Agent of Change
A man with a cane and purple leather cap stops at the House of Prayer -- for All People, which sits behind locked black iron gates. He pulls the gate. And searches the space between the bars, as if the space itself held something valuable, held some knowledge. The man pulls a laundry cart behind him. He walks west on H Street, passing the Joy of Motion Dance Center, Dazzles Unisex Salon, Phish Tea Cafe, with its red curtains in the window and green chairs outside.
A man drinking milk out of a water bottle emerges. And he is asked how people on H Street are getting along.
"Everyone gets along fine," says Travis Englert, 21. He says he lives in Pittsburgh but travels to Washington because he is working here for his uncle.
Who is his uncle? That would be Joe Englert, 46.
Englert, a frustrated writer, doesn't like to be called "a developer." But he is credited with changing the way Washington partied, more than a decade ago. Credited with resurrecting neighborhoods, opening up clubs in Adams Morgan and U Street, surrealist clubs, cultlike dark places with neon signs and spider webs. He's an impresario who goes into partnerships with his cooks and bartenders, and is called by some partygoers the King of D.C. Nightlife. Now he has turned his attention to H Street, has a vision that it too will become a chic place to live and party and shop.
He is walking east on H. A light snow is falling.
He opens the groovy doors of the Rock & Roll Hotel. Its motto, he says: "You can play here, but you cannot stay here."
Before it was the Rock & Roll Hotel, where those in Generation Me come to party, listen to bands or just chill, this space was a funeral home. Before that, it was a furniture store. Upstairs there are flying guitars with metal wings, golden crushed velvet sofas, mannequins with skulls hanging above the bar.
Englert steps back onto the street, headed for another bar he owns a block away. His vision for H Street is "to bring back the period of H Street," its cultural heyday when it was a thriving business thoroughfare. "What is truly amazing, what's unusual about this place, is it was so shuttered. What is striking is how desolate it was at night."
Outside, he doesn't slow down, walking between his establishments. There are still 85 boarded-up buildings on H Street NE. But he doesn't seem to see them as places of despair; instead he has visions of kid-friendly restaurants and high-end shops that might sell $2,000 sunglasses. You don't see what he sees, but that's why you are not a millionaire.
"We'll have brick sidewalks and a new street trolley," Englert says. "The residents say they want restaurants. We've given them taverns first. You need feet on the street first, then they establish a market and they pave the way for older, more sedate businesses to succeed."
Still you wonder about the split in the neighborhoods between people who rode out the crack epidemic and those just moving in. Englert, who lives in Glover Park, boils the dichotomy down to this: "Some neighborhood people are incredibly welcoming. Other neighbors are like, '[Expletive] you. I'm black. I'm white. I'm old. I'm gay. Some say, 'I've been here three months. Some say, 'I've been here 30 years.'
"If you are friendly, you won't have a problem. But some people want to change things in their way and it is not well received. In a public meeting, whenever there is a disagreement, race comes up. There is a segment of people who are so sensitive. It's so raw."
You ask him: What makes white people move into an area they dared not go for many years. What is the tipping point?
"It's kind of like a field of dreams, 'If you build it, they will come.' It's my yoke," he says. "People are looking for an excuse to go out." The city is where life happens, he says.
"The choices are you live in your car and deal with the blandness of suburbia or you live in a place you can walk and you know your neighbors," Englert says. "If more people lived in the city, it would be safer. It's become such a mind-numbing thing to live in the suburbs. It makes me sick to think about going shopping out there, the strip malls and endless lights. It's so depressing, the sameness. You don't know where you are but it looks the same: the Bennigans and Applebees, the fake made-up restaurants.
"You live here and you have Dickie's and the Italian Market and you can get your hair cut at a place like Smokie's, which is not -- for God's sake -- the Hair Cuttery."
In the Line of Fire
The stakes are still high. The mysteries of the neighborhood are never really conquered by the pioneers. Sometimes the street jumps up and bites a newcomer. And the question becomes whether the newcomer will stay or go.
At the end of a misty night in September 2006, Quike (pronounced Key-kay) Morales, a bartender at the Argonaut, toasted James, another bartender.
Clink of glasses: "It was a beautiful night," Morales said to James. "People were happy. Women were flirting. 'Let's toast to life.' This was beautiful." Then they played their song: "Maybe Tomorrow, I'll Find My Way Home."
After the song ended, they closed up the pub. Morales started walking to his house at 18th and H Northeast. He waited for the light to change at the corner where H meets Benning and Maryland and 15th -- the crossroads of his life, he would call it later. It started to rain, a soft rain. A soft thought crossed his mind: his girlfriend lived just a block away on 14th. He said to himself: " 'Bree is waiting for me, I know.' I said, 'Why not?' I have clothes there and a warm body who can warm me." It was 5 in the morning. Morales turned and started walking to 14th. He passed James, who teased him, saying Morales must be missing his girl.
Morales remembers there was nobody in the street. He remembers putting the key in the door.
He woke up 10 days later in the hospital. A detective was telling him: "You got shot. Do you know why you got shot?" A doctor was telling him: "You lost your eye. Your skull was shattered. You don't have a skull."
James told the police he heard three shots. The police later told Morales the person who most likely shot him was killed four days later. Now Morales, wears a white helmet to protect his head. He is awaiting surgery to replace a section of his skull. He is awaiting a new, fake eye, which a doctor/artist is now painting a delicate brown to match his own. He is trying to gather enough money for the surgeries and the hospital bills and the other doctor bills: $65,000, which he says will take the rest of his life to pay off. And he still does not know why the person shot him. "When I heard he died, I was angry because I'll never know why he shot me." Morales sits on the porch of the pale yellow brick house he rents on H Street. His neighbors, black, wave at him from the sidewalk and ask how he is doing. Life on the street has continued, the rhythm of life is normal: Kids ride bicycles, old women in stockings cross the street with their bags heading home as the sun sinks. The mail lady brings the mail. Today, Morales got a hospital bill for $32,000.
He is trying not to be bitter, not to show anger. "I can't be a normal person until I get my plate. I lost part of my skull. They had to take it out because it broke in pieces."
"The chain of suffering is just too long," he says. "The injury is really bad. I'm not lucky. I'm blessed. The bullet went through my eye. . . . The doctor told me the bullet went through a bunch of nerves without touching what was essential." Still he can't bend without pressure, a pounding in his head. He thanks the people of the neighborhood and the customers of the Argonaut for raising money while he was in the hospital. With this money, he has been able to live.
He has not moved. "I'm not like a person who can just move because I want to. I'm not making plenty of money," Morales says. "Moving myself out of the neighborhood won't make the neighborhood safer for anybody. I don't want anybody to suffer like I did." Now, he has started a campaign against violence in the neighborhood. He calls it: "Music Is Bulletproof," and he plans to take the anti-violence tour to clubs along H to raise money for other crime victims. "I want to use this energy instead of thinking about revenge or being bitter," he says. "I want to give back to the neighborhood what the neighborhood gave to me. It was because of this neighborhood that I survived."
A Common Concern
In one paradigm, a world is familiar. When the paradigm shifts, a way of living changes:
Vanessa Ruffin has lived on Wylie since 1970, when she signed a lease with her grandmother, who at one time owned five houses on Wylie. "She was a simple hardworking woman who did day's work. And she was a smart woman. She made me sign a lease-purchase agreement. She wasn't like people today who give houses to their children. She made me earn it."
"H Street," she says, "went from being a viable black-business downtown district to being a ghost town to now being Speculator City. This has been the fastest-moving wave of development since the '70s.
"At one time, I was the only neighbor on the block who stood up to drugs and hanging out and loitering. I was assaulted. The house broken into."
Now things on Wiley have changed, a new mix of people have moved in.
At Holy Name Church, there is a statue of a black saint standing outside. Inside the neighbors are talking. The common denominator among those who have lived here for decades and those who just moved in last summer is the rat problem.
"The first issue is rat abatement in the alley," says Ruffin. "The city should come out and look for the rat city, the holes in the ground where they live."
White man in hat: "I saw seven, eight, nine on the dumpster behind the lounge. It's bad."
White schoolteacher: "I just moved in and I'm willing to help. I see the rats, they, like, drink out of puddles. I can't believe I have reached a point that I can gaze on them with a flashlight."
Ruffin: "There is too much liquid soup in the alley. My back steps are stained blue, blue with whatever they give them to kill them. They just run across my stoop."
White man in hat: "Oooh. Like, do you really want to grill in your back yard?"
He says he wants to put up a privacy fence.
Ruffin: "You put up a privacy fence and what you've done is provided a hiding place for a criminal."
White man: "But I don't want a chain-link fence."
Ruffin: "I'm giving you the pros and cons. The decision is up to the individual."
The Exchange
And a white man passes a tall black man on H Street. The tall black man, wearing a knit hat, asks the short white man for a smoke: "You got a cigarette?"
"No, I don't smoke."
"That's good. You are healthy. Smoking can stunt your growth."
The tall black man smiles.
And the short white man laughs.
And the tall black man walks east on H Street.
He stops.
He bends to pick up a dime on the sidewalk, and 13 pennies fall out of his pocket.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The accused: For two little boys, wrongful murder charges could stick for life

1999: DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post


The American Society of News Editors 

Award for Nondeadline Writing

The accused:
For two little boys, wrongful murder charges could stick for life

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 1, 1998
CHICAGO -- The persistent sound of someone trying to saw through thick plastic woke her from a deep sleep. She slid heavily out of bed and followed the sound that was coming from down the hall, from the bathroom. The rasping of metal on plastic reminded her that nothing had changed. Her 7-year-old, her baby boy, was still facing charges of first-degree murder.
She found him in the bathroom with a butter knife, futilely trying to free his leg of an electronic shackle. He sat cross-legged on the floor, naked, yanking at the hard black plastic strip that a judge had ordered clamped around his ankle. He slid his chunky fingers under the shackle and tried frantically to pry it off -- not having sense enough to know he could not free himself, and his mother could not free him either. He was caught, trapped.
This chubby-cheeked boy, barely four feet tall, had spent much of the week in court. Reporters from across the country studied his caramel face, his fat braids, his missing two front teeth, and wrote down every detail.
A prosecutor, a blond woman with short hair and a crisp green suit, had sliced the air with her finger, then pointed at him and his 8-year-old friend, and proclaimed them callous killers. She argued that an 11-year-old girl had been fatally "brutalized at their hands."
For eight hours in court that day, attorneys argued back and forth about whether the 7- and 8-year-old boys were a danger to society. When the boys stood up, deputies raced behind them. When they went to the potty, deputies stood guard. But the judge knew that the children, under state law, couldn't be placed in a locked facility. So he sent them home, to be monitored by their parents and the custom-made electronic shackles.
The 7-year-old, believed to be the youngest murder defendant in the city's history, didn't fully understand what was happening. Because of his speech disorder, he couldn't or wouldn't talk about it. All he knew was that because of the uncomfortable shackle he couldn't nap that Saturday afternoon, and he wanted to take a bath.
"It don't come off," his mother sleepily reminded him.
"Man, why they got to put this stuff on me?" he grumbled, the words barely distinct because of his speech impediment.
"If you don't leave it alone, the sheriff is going to be here," she scolded.
The phone rang. The sheriff's office was on the other end. Deputies wanted to speak to the boy to make sure he was not trying to escape from the house.
The mother put him on, and he recited his ABCs and numbers until they were satisfied they had their prisoner.
"Police Say Suspects Not Too Small to Kill," declared the lead headline in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 11, two days after the two boys supposedly confessed to the murder of their neighborhood playmate, Ryan LaShaun Harris. "We are certain we have the right individuals," a Chicago homicide sergeant said.
Within a month, the charges were dropped and the shackles unbuckled. Investigators found semen on the panties of the victim. Boys that age cannot produce semen. Now, suddenly, the evidence pointed to someone else -- someone much older, someone powerful, someone the boys' parents and their neighbors had always suspected was the real killer, the one who battered that pretty little girl, crushed her skull, beat her face, rammed foliage up her nose, pushed her panties so far down her throat that she swallowed her tongue, making sure that if she did not die of the beating, she would most certainly die from lack of breath.
Ryan Harris was slain in a poor South Side neighborhood that had seen many other heinous murders. When the news of the boys' arrest was flashed nationally, many gasped and thought, Why not?
Why not -- when kids were shooting kids in alleys, parks, school halls and playgrounds? Why not -- when not far from this neighborhood two boys, 12 and 13, had dropped a 5-year-old out of a 14th-story window because he wouldn't steal candy? People, especially those who don't live on the South Side, seemed more than willing to believe the worst about kids -- black kids in particular.
The police version of events -- that the 7-year-old had knocked Ryan off her bicycle with a rock, then dragged her body into the weeds with the help of his friend -- was based on an interrogation of a shy child with speech problems who could easily be coaxed into saying anything an adult wanted to hear. Yet to this day, the police and the city refuse to apologize to the boys or to their parents. Saying the case is still under investigation, officials will not comment further.
There is one central question they really can't answer. Perhaps nobody can.
How does a little boy who still sucks his thumb put his life back together after he has been accused of murder?
How does he wash away the dry taste of a police interrogation room, the stain of the fingerprint ink, and the thick, lingering suspicion? How can he go on playing tag, walk to the store to get candy, go to school, when the grown-ups who caused all of this -- "the mean police," as he calls them -- won't just say they're sorry, and clear his name?
You don't remove the stigma by simply dismissing the charge.
The mother says it happened after church the other Sunday. Some kids called him a name: "I don't want to play with you anymore, you little murderer," one boy shouted. "My mama told me you murdered that girl."
"He will always be suspect. He will always be known as the youngest murder suspect in Chicago's history," says his mother. She is 28, round-faced, a hard-working woman who keeps her four children well behaved.
It's 7 a.m., and she is pressing his hair. It sizzles. His sisters, 6 and 8, and brother, 10, sit at the kitchen table in the small apartment above her mother-in-law's house. The mother takes the pressing comb and puts it in the stove's blue flames. He's having his second-grade pictures taken this morning at his new school, where the children don't know he was "the 7-year-old accused killer." Only the principal, his teacher and the counselor know.
The boy's long hair hangs nearly shoulder-length. He is proud of it, and of his perfect-attendance trophies from last year. An industrious child, he liked to help out at the corner store and the laundromat, offering to sweep the floor for quarters.
All that has changed since the charges were filed. The family had to move. He doesn't like to talk about his arrest. He does not like to talk much at all -- for when he speaks, he is often misunderstood. His voice is deep and gruff, and his tongue gets tied. The words bump together: "Amgoingtoschool. Don'tbe laughing atme. Yourhair isalmostlongas mine."
His mother knows what he's saying and interprets.
A court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed him as having something called a receptive/expressive language disorder. "If you ask him where is his right hand, he will point to his left," his mother explains. But it goes deeper than that.
"I'll say, Where did you go last night?' And he'll say, To the store.' And I'll say, No, we went to McDonald's.' "
The family may have actually gone to the store. But once he's told it was McDonald's, the boy would believe it to be true, she says.
So: If you told this boy that he killed somebody, he'd believe that, too.
The mystery begins on July 27, in a neighborhood known as Englewood. That afternoon, Ryan Harris, a straight-A student who wanted to be a basketball player, didn't come home after riding a borrowed bicycle. Ryan had been spending the summer with her godmother.
In Englewood when a little girl is missing, residents tend to fear the worst. Her family called police, mobilized a search party and passed out hand-printed fliers, with a photo of a smiling Ryan Harris standing in front of a chalkboard, her braids pulled up in a ponytail.
Ryan's body was found the next day behind an isolated row house in an overgrown lot near the railroad tracks. The medical examiner determined she died of trauma to the head and asphyxiation. A collective, almost primal scream came from the community. Somebody was hunting their little girls and had made a kill. The residents, poor and powerless as they were, demanded that the killer be found.
Police began investigating older men, but then got an anonymous call saying the murder was connected to some boys throwing rocks. Detectives went to talk to Ryan's relatives, who told them that a few days before Ryan died, she and her little sister were going to the corner store to buy candy when two boys started throwing rocks at them.
"You better get back home and don't come around here," one of the boys yelled at the girls, according to police reports.
"I want that bike right there," a boy yelled, pointing to the blue bike Ryan was riding.
Ryan got scared and peddled away.
The 7-year-old's parents were high school sweethearts who married four years after graduation. She got an associate degree in liberal arts from a local college. They both found work in fast food. She is a manager at a KFC franchise and he is a fry cook. On Sunday, Aug. 9, both were at work.
The boy was at his grandmother's when police knocked on her door. They needed to ask the 7-year-old just a few questions. It seemed he had some information and might be able to help them out. The grandmother told the detectives she was taking him to church, but would be sure to stop by the police station after services that afternoon.
A slender woman who wears her hair primly pulled back, the grandmother drove the boy there about 5 p.m. She says that when they arrived, a detective greeted him: "Hey, big guy, come with me."
The detective took the boy to the lieutenant's office, a small room with a desk, a telephone, a typewriter, a computer, four file cabinets and three chairs. According to a police report on the interrogation, the door was left open so that the boy's grandmother could see him.
The detectives, James Cassidy, who is white, and Allen Nathaniel, who is black, introduced themselves. But before they asked him any questions about the dead girl, they made small talk. They asked him about his favorite sport (basketball), what kinds of things he liked to do (play with trucks), how old he was and whether he was looking forward to going to school.
Then they began the real questions.
"Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?" a detective leaned over and asked.
"You should never lie," the boy told police, according to the report. To tell the truth is to tell "what really happened" and a lie is "when someone makes up something."
"To tell the truth is good," a detective said. "To tell a lie is bad. ... Good boys only tell the truth."
"Are you a good boy?" a detective asked him.
Yes, he told them.
The officers then asked him to hold their hands "because we were all friends."
The boy gave Cassidy his left hand and Nathaniel his right.
The detectives showed him a poster with Ryan Harris's picture and asked the boy, "Do you know the girl who was killed?"
"Without further questioning," the detectives' report says, the boy told them this story: He and the 8-year-old were playing and throwing rocks. When they saw Ryan riding her bicycle, the 7-year-old threw a rock and hit the girl in the head, knocking her off her bike.
"After she fell off the bicycle she wasn't moving so he and :the 8-year-old: each took one of the girl's arms and moved her into the weeds where they began to play with her soft,' " the report said. "He said they took her panties off and put them in the girl's mouth and rubbed leaves on her."
According to the report, the boy told police, "They put leaves in the girl's nose and also a stem." And police said the two took the bicycle and moved it into the weeds by the railroad tracks, where someone must have taken it because they never saw it again.
Police won't comment on the interrogation, which was not taped, but a source close to the investigation, who did not want to be identified, put it this way: "At some point in the conversation, police were being told things that were very disturbing by the 7-year-old. He said things that implicated himself. The cops were stunned.
"They said, We dragged her.' There were drag marks on her body. They said they put things in her nose. There was dirt and leaves in her nose."
At that point, Cassidy left the room and Nathaniel continued talking to the boy about basketball and school.
In another room, officers approached the 8-year-old and his mother, and told them they wanted to get a witness statement from him. Police said she allowed them to talk to the boy alone, saying, "I want you to get to the bottom of this."
The 8-year-old was given a soda and put through the same routine. He and Detective Cassidy talked about lying, and how good boys don't lie. The report says that each suspect was given a simplified version of the Miranda warning: The boys were told that they didn't have to talk if they didn't want to, and if they asked for a lawyer, then the detectives "wouldn't talk to them anymore."
Neither boy knew what a lawyer was.
According to the report, the children were told that a lawyer "protects people who are said to have done something bad." Court was a place "where if you were accused of doing something bad you would have to go there and a person called a judge would decide if you really did something bad or not."
The 8-year-old told police that he met the 7-year-old behind a house and the younger boy threw a rock, hitting the girl in the head, and she fell off her bike. He told police the 7-year-old did "something to the girl who wasn't moving," the report says.
The older boy said he didn't want to watch, so he turned his head away. Then he got on his bicycle and rode home to watch cartoons.
The boys were given McDonald's Happy Meals, then were arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
The homicide case of Ryan LaShaun Harris was classified as "Cleared/Closed by Arrest."
By 6 p.m., the 7-year-old's mother was ending her shift at KFC. She arrived at her mother's house, but the boy and his grandmother were still not back and her older son told her they had gone to the police station. She panicked, thinking, "What is going on?"
Still in her uniform, she jumped in her car and sped down the expressway. She ran into the station and saw someone she knew: the mother of the 8-year-old. "You are not going to believe what's going on," the woman said.
She tried to find her son, but an officer told her the boy couldn't leave just yet because he had admitted hitting Ryan with a rock.
Later, in a green spiral notebook, the mother recorded her version of a conversation with the unidentified officer. "Now he's not being charged with anything," she quotes him as saying. "The way I see it, it was an accident, so don't be mad at him. He's going home and if you don't tell, we won't either."
She looked at him in disbelief and asked, "What about the rape allegations?"
He said, "Oh, that was just the media's imagination. You go back in the room with him while we complete our paperwork."
She went numb. An accident, she thought. She sat in a room across the hall. She didn't think anything was wrong until her son had to go to the washroom.
Police stopped him.
"Where are you going?" boomed an officer. "He needs to be escorted."
Now she knew something serious was going on.
"They won't let him out of sight," she said. "I saw a detective go back with him. I kept hearing DCFS' " -- the Department of Children and Family Services.
Thirty minutes passed. She panicked again. "Where is he?"
A youth officer came into the room, asked her to step next door, and told her without stopping for breath or giving her a wall to lean on that her 7-year-old baby was charged with murder.
"Are you out of your mind?" she screamed. "This is a child. Are you crazy?"
She had to pull herself together. She had to listen closely to what they said. She needed to know what was going to happen next. She recorded the conversation in her mind and later put it down in her notebook, her diary.
The officers told her that her son had confessed to hitting the girl with a rock, dragging her body into weeds, stuffing "foliage" in her nose and playing with her "very softly."
It was a setup, she thought. "My son can't talk," she argued. "If he speaks a whole sentence, you might be able to pick two words out of the sentence. You must be crazy."
She told them not to talk to the boy again unless he had a lawyer. That much she knew from watching TV.
They told her she had a choice: Sign the boy over to Hargrove Hospital, a psychiatric center on Chicago's West Side, or DCFS would take custody of him until he went to trial. Her mind went blank. She wrung her hands and did what any decent mother would have done.
She signed the papers that allowed him to go to the hospital.
"DCFS you don't want to play with," she says. "They get your child and you will never see him again."
On the way to the hospital, he fell asleep sucking his thumb.
The next day, the court assigned two public defenders to the 7-year-old: Catherine Ferguson, a tough-talking lawyer who grew up on the South Side, and Elizabeth Tarzia, who was about to have her own baby.
They hadn't even met the boys before a hearing that would decide if there was probable cause for holding them.
"We were waiting for the kids to come when we saw these two little figures walking down the hall with five or six deputies," Ferguson remembers.
The boys were hysterical, crying, slobbering, calling for their mothers.
"It was the kind of cry when someone loses a mom," Ferguson says. "My partner starts to cry. I said, You gotta pull it together.' "
When the 7-year-old met his attorney, he wiped his face and asked whether he could go home.
"I tried to change the subject," Ferguson recalls. "I said, Well, you got a whole lot of boogers running down your face. Im going to get some candy. What kind do you like?' "
"Honey buns," the boy told her. She had never seen or heard of that pastry. She went to the vending machine and bought Skittles.
Under the fluorescent lights of the courtroom, the boys climbed onto chairs between their attorneys. Their feet dangled above the floor. A courtroom artist gave them crayons so they could draw pictures on legal pads. When they stood before the judge, they were crying so much that he stopped the hearing and asked the boys' mothers to stand behind them.
"But a sheriff told me, You can't touch him,' " the 7-year-old's mother says. "We couldn't hug them or touch them."
On the night of Aug. 9, lawyer Andre Grant got a call from a woman who called herself Miss Rosetta. It was a name he fondly remembered from his days growing up in the Washington Park housing project. "The woman practically raised me," Grant recalls. Now her children had had children, and she was the grandmother of an 8-year-old boy -- a boy who had been charged with murder and needed help.
Tall and slim, Grant is a former prosecutor who likes to take on the system. He headed to the police station.
The boy was sitting in a dirty interrogation room, crying. Cops were looming over him, the lawyer says. Grant asked all the officers to leave the room.
"I told him his grandma had hired me to represent him and I knew his mom. And I told him I was a lawyer. And I asked him if he knew what a lawyer was.
"He said no. I asked him if he knew who I was. He said yes. I said, Who am I'? He said, You are another police.' I said, No, I'm not the police. I'm here to help you. I'm going to fight for you.' "
The boy's face showed he didn't know whether to trust him. He wouldn't stop crying.
Grant had to figure out a way to get to him.
He leaned over and asked: "Do you like the Power Rangers?" The boy, looking bewildered, said yes. "Who's your favorite Power Ranger?" Grant asked.
"The blue Power Ranger," the boy said, his eyes a little wider.
"I'm the blue Power Ranger," Grant said. "I'm going to fight for you."
The boy stopped crying.
While editors around the country front-paged the story on the boys, their neighbors, playmates, attorneys and ministers on the South Side said it didn't make sense. Didn't make sense that the kids were riding their bike in a field choked with weeds. Didn't make sense that two little boys could produce the kind of blows to bring a taller girl to death. Didn't make sense that they could be a part of something so terrible and then participate in the search to find the girl.
Community leaders urged police to keep looking for Ryan's killer. Citing the historical racism in the Chicago police department, they raised that issue even though the superintendent of police and the commander of the district are both black. The police countered by saying race had nothing to do with the arrests, that the boys knew too much about the crime. But neighbors said other kids had seen the body before police made it to the scene and word of what they saw raced through the neighborhood grapevine. Anybody could have known those things.
State's Attorney Richard Devine said: "The police would not have filed the charges and we would not be pursuing them unless there was evidence to support the charges. Police officers are not out there to find some people to throw a charge at, particularly a 7- and 8-year-old."
But three weeks later, investigators got a call from the state crime lab that blew their case apart. The call came a day before the boys were scheduled to go back to court for another hearing. A DNA report had found semen on the girl's panties.
When the fax came in, prosecutors were waiting. "We were surprised," says a source in the case. "There was an immediate recognition we would drop the charges."
On Sept. 4, they took the new evidence to the hearing. Defense attorneys were waiting. The prosecutor stood up and read a statement dismissing the charges.
"Everybody was looking at them with jaws dropped," public defender Ferguson recalls. "Then it was like, How dare you? Why didn't you find that out before you charged them?' "
After four weeks, the boys were set free. The police still refuse to rule out that they were somehow involved.
"At this stage, all you can say is that the charges went away," says the law enforcement source. "Nobody has been charged in the Ryan Harris case."
Checking the DNA against a database, the lab found a close match with a man called Eddie Durr. But the match was not perfect, leading police to believe the semen belonged to someone related to him. They found his brother, Floyd Durr, 29, who had been arrested this summer after a series of sexual assaults. Floyd Durr's DNA matched perfectly, the police say.
Durr, a convicted sex offender who lived in Englewood, is being held without bond in three other cases. He recently pleaded innocent to sexually attacking three neighborhood girls earlier this year, ages 15, 10 and 11.
Durr, who has not been charged in the Harris case, has denied killing the girl. He allegedly told police he saw two little boys playing near a house. According to police reports, he said he happened upon the girl after she was dead and performed a sexual act that stained her underwear.
"I think that's a lie," says Grant, the 8-year-old's attorney. "They know this guy's the guy. They know doggone well these children aren't involved."
The day is gone in Englewood. The 8-year-old's father is in a fit of anger. When Andre Grant arrives, the father stops him on the sidewalk.
"You know what I heard last night? A bump. It's 4 o'clock in the morning and my baby runs in the room: Daddy, it's a man!'
The father is a mechanic who plies his trade on the street in front of his aging brown house. He paces in front of the chain-link gate. His face is pulsing with rage.
"I got to get out of here. I'm going to take my baby and go. Kids are running up to him at school saying, Why did you kill that girl?' " the father says. "I got to go. Money, no money, we've got to get out of here."
Up the creaky steps, past a mixed-breed chow, the little boy sits curled in a green chair, too close to the television. He's 4 feet 2, with a round brown face and big brown eyes. He smiles, gives his lawyer a handshake and then a high five.
He is watching a show about volcanoes. A gray and white kitten jumps in the boy's lap. He strokes the kitten's fur.
"Look at that smile," Grant says. "The first time I saw him, I knew he could not have done that. Look at his smile."
The boy says nothing.
"You know he's been asking about you," the boy's mother says to the lawyer.
Grant tells the boy he can call him any time, and reaches into his jacket pocket and hands him a business card.
Call me, he says. Do you remember my name?
"You're the blue Power Ranger," the boy says.
Thanks to the conventions of the juvenile justice system and journalism, the names of the boys have not been released. But that doesn't mean people don't know.
"I have this empty feeling," the 7-year-old's mother says. "Because you know he got a label. He's like the youngest child in the United States to ever be accused of murder. People won't say it, but I know they'll always think it."
She is sitting in the dimly lit but spotless kitchen. Her daughters are playing at the table, copying letters and counting.
It was hard for the boy to start school. His old school didn't want to enroll a murder suspect, so his mother placed him in one 15 minutes away.
The first day back, his mother held his hand, but when he saw the big building he screamed, "Those people are mean in there. Don't leave me!"
She couldn't calm him, so she took him home.
The next day, he was better. But the day after that, when the teacher was not looking, he slipped out of the classroom and they found him balled up sucking his thumb in a corner.
It's over, but it's not over.
Immeasurable damage has been done. You can see it in the boys' eyes. They feel that at any time, the police could come knocking at their doors.
The 7-year-old told his mother: "They think I killed that little girl. She was my friend."
His mother told him: "Anybody say you hurt that girl, that you killed that girl, is ignorant. We ignore ignorant people."
She is angry: "We still don't know who killed that girl," she says. "I want to prove my son's innocence. He won't stay outside and play. He won't eat honey buns no more. When we go to the store, he gets a big fat juicy pickle."
"We may never get to the truth of what happened now," public defender Ferguson says. "We always thought he saw something. I don't know if he dreamed it up or they :the detectives: said it. Every time you ask him, it comes out different."
He doesn't talk about it now. And his parents are not going to ask him. The police want to interview him again, but the lawyers have refused.
Grant also has refused to submit the 8-year-old to more questions.
"I said, You've got to be joking.' There is not a parent in America that would take their children back to the police station ... when they were framed the first time."
After the judge ordered the boys unleashed, they still walked and thought as they did when they had the monitors on. Like the prisoner so used to the chain that when he is freed he forgets how to run.
The 7-year-old's mother told him the news: "You are free. You can go outside and play."
She pushed him to the front door, but he wouldn't budge.
"Don't wannago," he said. "You tryingtotrick me."
He grabbed his mother's leg.