But We Want Him To Come Home


root - Posted on 07 January 2003

DAMO travels To NYC and Pennsylvania to visit, advocate and report on the ongoing struggle for justice for our disabled brothers and sisters of color

by Leroy Moore Jr./Illin and Chillin and DAMO

After five years of non-stop work to build Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, DAMO into a non-profit advocacy organization plus lecturing, consulting and publishing, Leroy Moore Jr. and DAMO closed their doors during the whole month of September 2002. Angela Davis once wrote that revolutionaries have to take care of themselves or the revolution will die. I had to take care of me and re-energize myself for the battles ahead. This realization lead to the decision to take a vacation plus I could not miss the birth of my first nephew in Bloomfield, CT. However I did bring along my notebook and grant applications. Also I was going to see Michael Manning in Pennsylvania for an updated article for my column Illin-n-chillin on PoorNewsNetwork(PNN)

From the sunshine state to the big apple to the state of brotherly love, I traveled across the country to see and talk to my new found brother, Michael Manning and his family in Pennsylvania. I Walked down JFK's airport aisle toward the baggage claim with a sign that screamed "looking for the Manning Family!" "Leroy, Leroy.. over here," a strong voice breezed through the crowd and softly landed in my ears. I saw a Michael Manning look-a-like, his mother, Diana Manning. Instantly I was engulfed in the feeling of home. It's been almost ten years since I've been home to New York City and Hartford, CT. The car drove onto the Brooklyn Bridge leaving N.Y.C. behind and entering Pennsylvania. Conversation spilled out of the car on subjects like wrongful incarceration to familiar foods and favorite places in New York.

"Welcome to Pennsylvania" the green sign scanned my eyes. At the same time the black pages of history flipped in my mind from the Declaration of Independence in which Black people were seen as 3\5 of a person to the racist, corrupt Justice System that has swallowed up Mumia Abu-Jamal, Michael Manning and many more innocent brothers and sisters of color all have happened in the State of Brotherly Love! Diana broke my trance while pointing at the gasoline station, and the first family house in the county of Pocono, where Michael's attackers waited for Michael to come out and get into his car. The small town's center whipped by. Streetlights faded in the background as the car dipped and dived around sharp tunnel dark corners. Appearing out of the darkness, was a driveway that parted the thick trees and bushes and behind laid the Manning's new cottage like house. This Brooklyn family left the concrete, hustle-bustle of NYC for the lush green and quietness of a small town in Swiftwater, Penn.

The Manning's family greeted me as I sat down on the couch in their living room Diana and I continued our conversation about Michael's case and our visit at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution on the following day, August 30th, 2002. Michael informed the prison's administrators that I would be apart of his mother's weekly visit that day. All I needed was some type of a photo id.. After a long needed good night sleep, Diana, Bobby and Malik, Michael's brothers greeted me at my hotel door with hot McD's breakfast the next morning. We continued our conversation and my breakfast in the car. Since Michael's trail in 1988 he has been tossed around the state to four different facilities. However the Manning feels lucky that the facility he is in now is close to them, about an hour or two away.

We finally pulled up at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution and the first thing I noticed was the American flag blowing in the wind. My heart started to pound. For me police and prison guards share the same yellow stained, corrupt bed. At that moment my body was a freeway of raw emotions i.e. anger, rage, fear and a little bit of intimidation as we entered the main building. Pictures of White men stared at me from the wall. None of them I knew. We signed in and a husky White man with a black or a blue uniform on, took our ids. Diana and Michael's little brothers were familiar with the routine. We went over to a machine that turned our dollars into tokens for food in the visiting room.

Diana told me that many local prison activists and family members are fighting for improvement of the facilities and the food. She goes on to say that it costs a lot on her family to keep Michael well fed and equipped with his daily needs. Michael is a tall and big man but the small, cold portion of food he receives in the prison are not pleasing to his stomach.

While waiting for the door to open, I noticed that the sky was gloomy with the turf-like grass evenly cut that clashed with the white\blueish clouds in the gray sky. The doorbell broke my concentration and families started to walk down this long corridor with a flat green office like carpet. Along each side of the corridor were windows that expanded from the ceiling to the floor. We came up to a glass door. The visiting room looked like a cafeteria with a dozen tables and chairs. This room had a children play area, machine for all types of food, a little area to take pictures and a huge lifted judge- like desk for a prison's employee who reminded me of an overseer on a plantation. Sometimes the media can shape your mind on some places because I thought Michael would be behind some type of thick glass or steel bars for our visit. I was completely wrong as Malik and Bobby took off when Michael walked into the visiting room with his cane. Diana hugged her son and then finally after almost two years of writing and advocating about Michael's case our eyes met. We hugged for a long time. Michael's brothers went off to play in the children's room, his mother went to go get some food with the tokens and Michael and I was left alone to talk. As we talked I noticed all the inmates wore a brown jogging suit with slip-on white sneakers and over 95% of the men were African Americans.

Michael and I talked about everything, for example his family, his strong belief in God, his music career, life in New York, his case, the inaccessibility of the prison towards inmates with disabilities, his plans when he gets out etc.. As time ticked away, we all lined up for pictures and Michael talked to his brothers. Diana made sure that her son had enough to eat. "Fifteen more minutes!" The guards shouted. I felt a collective thought floating around the room as family members, wives, and children kissed and hugged their fathers, husbands and brothers etc "We want him to come home with us!" We finally said our last good-byes. I grabbed my camera from the car and took a couple of pictures of the outside as the Red, White and Blue continued to flop from side to side. The car was quiet on the way home. I asked Diana if we could stop at the courthouse where Michael was sentenced and the gasoline station where Michael was attacked so I can take some pictures for POOR Magazine. She said yes.

Ten minutes into our conversation about new elements in Michael's case the phone rang, it was Michael. He was very grateful of the work that DAMO, POOR Magazine and the Bay view Newspaper have done on his behalf. Armed with my notebook, pen, pictures and Michael's buttons, I boarded the bus to my final destination, Bloomfield, CT. where my sister was ready to give birth. From Michael Manning to my the birth of Sasha Max Bernstein, my first nephew confirmed my theme I live with daily and that is "life is too short for bullshit!"

The Road to Freedom & Justice
Update on Michael Manning

Read Fighting to Stay Alive & My Brother on Illin-n-Chillin at www.poormagazine.org for background info on Michael's case. My visit to the Manning's family home in Swiftwalter, Pennsylvania and Michael Manning, himself on August 29th & 30th 2002 gave me the opportunity to talk to Diana Manning, Michael's mother, to get some update info on Michael's case and to see Michael in person. I found out that there has been a lot going on since my last article. Here is the news and it is all looking like Michael will soon be home. Keep your fingers cross and write to the Mannings at their website www.michaelmanning.homestead.com They needed letters of support.

In 1999, a year after Michael was sentenced in self-defense case of murder of Harry Burley to 12 to 30 years the Mannings organized a benefit. This benefit's main goal was to spread awareness about the unjust treatment Michael was faced with during the attack and at the hands of a racist justice system with an all White jury and to organized the community around his first appeal. This benefit attracted a big handful of people but only a small portion of the benefit mad it on the local news. According to Diana Manning the authorities are use to getting away with things that are not just. The authorities thought that the Mannings would go away and Michael's case would be swept under the dirty carpet but Diana has turned Michael's case into a international campaign with letters coming in from all over the world as far as Africa. However some town's residents are scared to speak out plus there are no Black newspaper like San Francisco Bay View to get Michael's case in the media but the Mannings kept on pushing for justice and it has paid off.

In March of 1998 the Mannings and their lawyer filed an appeal in the county Superior Court of Swiftwalter, Penn. but it was denied. The Mannings lost his first appeal to the Superior Court when he claimed President Judge Ronald E. Vican "abused his discretion" and assumed a prosecutorial role" at the trial by asking 80 probing questions of the defendant. Judge Vican also made racist comments in cases involving self-defense of Black men and has spoke about Michael's case in other court cases. The second appeal cited misconduct by the prosecutor, and Monroe County District Attorney, Mark Pazuhanich exercised "poor judgement which prejudice before the jury." So after all of that Judge Vican had the last say on Michael's first appeal and of course it was denied.

The second appeal was filed on June 18th, 2001 with new lawyers, Thomas Sundmaker and Jeffrey Valander. The appeal was shipped out of Judge Vican courtroom and into the diverse city of Philadelphia Superior Court. Since that move, Michael's case has exploded in the media, Black organizations are now getting involved and the above elements of the first appeal, the influence of Judge Vican and Mark Pazuhanich over the jury especially the removal of Ms Rowe who was pro Michael Manning has been uncovered. A few weeks ago Michael's appeal was granted on the grounds of misconduct by the prosecutor and Pennsylvania Superior Court has reversed the 1998 appeal granting a new trail for Michael Manning. Now they have to wait to see if the county appeals the decision, if so, the Mannings and their lawyers are taking their case to the Supreme Court. In the mean time the lawyers are working towards bail for Michael.

STAY TUNE FOR MORE DETAILS or go to Michael's website at:


www.michaelmanning.homestead.com

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