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The Condemnation of Little B.

by Elaine Brown, Beacon Press, February 2002 $24.00, ISBN 0-807-00974-1

With The Condemnation of Little B, Elaine Brown, former Black Panther chairwoman and author of the heralded memoir A Taste of Power, tackles one of the most pressing problems confronting the African-American community--the escalating imprisonment of our youth. In this case, the demonized culprit, Michael (Little B) Lewis is arrested for the 1997 slaying of Darrell Woods, model father and family man, shooting his victim three times in full view of his young sons, in a dismal, drug-riddled Atlanta neighborhood.

Atlanta's city fathers and the media hammered away at this "thug and bad boy who killed to prove his manhood," even enacting an ordinance that would permit them to toughen existing juvenile crime codes to include measures to corral 10-year-old offenders. However, in the Little B case, Brown insists the district attorney's office railroaded the small, simple boy who had lived on the streets since age 11 after the city's child service agency declared his crack-addicted, prostitute mother unfit to care for him. She would later serve as one of the key witnesses against her abandoned son, saying he confessed to her, paving the way for him to get a life sentence.

With a sharp eye for detail and discrepancies in both testimony and procedure, Brown strips away the prosecution's rush to judgment in the investigation and trial; using the words of drug dealers awaiting sentencing and addicts, such as Little B's mother, to ramrod through a conviction in which there was no physical evidence connecting the boy to the killing. No fingerprints were found on the weapon, an old World War II rifle with a defective mechanism that was too big for the frail, tiny boy to handle or shoot repeatedly. Never read his Miranda rights, Little B was interrogated without counsel present. Brown, with often penetrating sociopolitical and legal analysis, not only attacks the wily prosecutors, the hapless defense team, various toothless city agencies but the well-heeled, African-American community that cheered loudest for the boy's conviction without knowing all the facts.

One of the highlights of this thought-provoking book comes in her recapping of numerous high-profile cases where extremely young black children, some still in elementary school, have been arrested and charged with a crime despite evidence to the contrary, such as the infamous 1998 Chicago rape and murder case of an 11-year-old girl, involving two black boys, ages seven and eight. The nation spoke openly in an uproar about the young black super-predator, but charges were "quietly dropped when a 30-year-old man confessed to the murder." Brown lists similar cases where young black boys, in their early teens, are arrested and hustled through the system in a "new age" version of lynch-mob justice, only to be later cleared without any media fanfare.

Some, like Little B, are not so lucky. According to a 1999 NAACP Defense Fund report, two-thirds of the juveniles on death row in the U.S. are children of color, mainly black, and quite a few of them did not receive proper legal representation or full constitutional protection like Little B. Here, with a few minor digressions and history lessons, Brown, whose potent revolutionary fervor emerges on every page, issues a terrifying wake-up call to all who are ready to write off increasingly demonized, underrated youth. Don't ignore this one!

--Robert Fleming is the author of Havoc After Dark: A Collection of Short Horror Fiction and the editor of After Hours: A Collection of Erotica by African American Men to be released this August.
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Author:Fleming, Robert
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:591
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