Bank robbery trap, Black men recruited for crimes: A Conversation with Deric Muhammad

Community activist Deric Muhammad is concerned about the plight of young Black males and their increased involvement in crime. For this reason, he organized “Project Forward,” a citywide initiative geared at stopping violence, increasing economic development and fighting for justice within the Black community.

He also hosts an annual Black Male Summit, which encourages participants to make smart choices.

Muhammad talked about how increased community involvement can help solve the issue of crime.

Defender: Why should the Black community be concerned about the bank robberies?

Muhammad: The particular issue the Black community needs to be concerned about is that the overwhelming majority of the individuals going to jail for bank robberies in Houston are African-American males. There is a “dark” type of mentorship going on in our community where you have older Black males recruiting younger Black males to commit crimes rather than recruiting them to do something positive.

Defender: What does the seriousness of the crime say about problems in the Black community?

Muhammad: There is a saying that says “extreme conditions sometimes cause extreme measures.” The behavior that you see in our young people is an adequate reflection of our condition. Our condition is so bad that people think that they have to result to that which is not even humane in order to survive or succeed.

Defender: What can the community do to help lead young Black men down the right path?

Muhammad: Special attention needs to be paid to the plight of the Black male because that is where the need is greatest. We have to start giving back to the Black male in our community by way of mentorship. We have to make sure there are enough programs that are specifically designed to enlighten the Black male and create opportunities and options for the Black male. We have to get ahead of the problem because too often, the problem doesn’t come to our attention until it’s too late.

Defender: What should young black men who are desperate for money do if they feel there is no other alternative but crime?

Muhammad: What you should do to make money is first identify your gift or talent. Then you have to find a way to turn that into a profitable business. Start small, be patient until it grows. It is better that you go after the finer things in life using your gifts and talents and having the patience to build up your business than to go into a lifestyle where you have to constantly look over your shoulder.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 6 (December 5, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/12.05.2013_e-full.

Advertisements

Bank robbery trap, Black men recruited for crimes

In recent years, violent bank robberies have become a cause of concern. According to the FBI, 112 bank robberies have taken place in Houston since Jan. 1, 2013, and an alarming 82 percent were committed by African-Americans.

During a two-month period, 27 African-American men were sent or sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the robberies.

“The FBI is concerned about the level of violence,” said Assistant Special Agent Carlos Barrón. “We’ve seen an uptake in it in the last four months. These are not just ‘note jobs’ anymore, they are getting violent. There are groups of individuals committing these robberies opposed to a lone person walking into a bank.”

Almost half of this year’s robberies were “takeover” bank robberies. They are typically committed by two or more individuals who are usually armed and wearing dark clothes to conceal their identities.

“They will literally take over the bank for a certain period of time during a robbery,” said FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap. “The chances of violence are much higher when a weapon is being displayed or pointed.”

Both Barrón and Dunlap said that bank robberies have become more organized in the recent years. Older individuals will often recruit younger males to participate in committing robberies through the promise of “fast money.”

“This organized recruitment is something different than we have ever seen before,” Barrón said. “I think there must be some sense of these individuals looking up to these people for some reason and believing them.”

Dunlap said new recruits are oftentimes “groomed” and “manipulated” into committing violent crimes. Barrón agreed and said it is a misconception that criminals are an unorganized group of men.

One group, for example, exclusively robbed banks located inside grocery stores. The robberies were extensively planned and included several layers of lookouts. The robbers would typically steal a car, and abandon the stolen car after the robbery.

“There are individuals deliberately identifying those in the community that they believe would be susceptible to being a part of a group,” Barrón said. “It doesn’t matter how violent the group has been.”

Recruitment efforts

According to Dunlap, when new recruits commit nonviolent crimes and get away with it they gain confidence. They then recruit more individuals to commit more crimes. “They get the taste for the crime and then go back and recruit more people,” she said.

One group of men recently sent to prison for committed armed bank robberies in Houston planned and executed between 20-30 bank robberies from 2007-2011.

Reginald Mosley, 37, shot an off-duty officer during the group’s last robbery and received the longest prison sentence of 525 months, or nearly 44 years. He was also convicted of conspiracy, three counts of bank robbery and discharging a firearm during commission of a violent crime.

Two men in their twenties were each convicted of one count of conspiracy and will serve the next five years of their lives in federal prison.

Dunlap said many recruits assume that because they are not directly involved in robbing a bank they will get a lesser punishment and can possibly avoid federal prison time.

However, this is not the case. Anyone involved in committing a federal crime, such as a bank robbery, will be charged in a federal court.

“If you have any role in the crime, you will do federal time,” Dunlap said. “You are charged the exact same way.

“Federal time is not like state prison where you can get time off for good behavior. You are going to do most of your federal sentence.”

Dunlap said robbers do not inform new recruits of the dire consequences associated with committing federal crimes. She says they offer a “low-risk, high-reward” scenario, offering the recruits large sums of money without mentioning the consequences.

“It does not pay to commit a bank robbery,” Barrón said. “The amount of money that you will get in the robbery is probably less than the amount of time that you will do in prison.”

“Eventually, you are going to get caught,” he continued. “The FBI will investigate these crimes. We will find these individuals and they are going to go to jail for life.”

“The risks are too high,” Dunlap said. “There is no turning back once you make that one wrong choice.”

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 6 (December 5, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/12.05.2013_e-full.

Thomas reflects on music, growth of KTSU

For more than 60 years, George Thomas has played the trumpet and loved jazz music. He has played with highly acclaimed artists such as Kirk Whalum, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Joe Sample.

In 1995, Thomas became general manager at KTSU radio station, which broadcasts from Texas Southern University. He helped influence Houston’s perspective on jazz and transformed the radio station into a nationally known and respected company.

In 2005, under Thomas’ leadership, KTSU opened an 18,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. It now houses multiple production rooms, an announcer’s room, newsroom, multi-purpose center, internet studio and administrative suite.

Thomas has retired from KTSU and was recently honored during a celebration at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Here he reflects on music and radio.

George Thomas

George Thomas

Defender: How did your career in the radio industry begin?
Thomas: I started in radio as an account executive at KYOK. It was one of the first Black radio stations in Houston.

Defender: How has KTSU provided exposure for up and coming musical artists?
Thomas: KTSU did not have the same restrictions as commercial radio stations. Public radio stations have a freer range to play different music. In public radio we get to play the music people don’t hear all the time whereas in commercial radio you may hear the same music repeated. That’s the difference between public radio and commercial radio. One is driven by money and the other is driven by audience support.

Defender: What are your hopes for the future of KTSU and other Black-operated radio stations?
Thomas: The paradigm of radio is changing so rapidly. You don’t pay for the services you normally get on a radio station. You get in the car and cut on the radio. However, you also have things like satellite radio and internet radio and other places where you can get the same service. Radio, especially public radio, is going through a real change now because not only are you competing with commercial radio but also competing with getting the audience to contribute to the station. The future is complex because there are so many other media companies competing for the same audience.

Defender: What are your plans post-retirement?

Thomas: I plan to continue promoting and being involved in music. I plan to continue playing with my band, George Thomas & Friends, and promoting jazz music.

Defender: Which artists influenced your music?
Thomas: I’m a Miles Davis fan. He was a trumpet player I admired coming up during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Defender: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Thomas: KTSU would be a main highlight. When I came to KTSU it was just a radio station. We managed to get the radio station affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio and Public Radio International. We were also able to get a grant from Corporation for Public Broadcasting and get the station certified. This meant that we could get programming from NPR and Public Radio International. We created programs that were specifically designed for audiences of color. That was a great achievement in getting the powers that be to fund the African-American public radio consortium and to present programs to audiences of color.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 1 (October 31, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/10.31.2013_e-full.

Summit stresses smart choices for Black males

By Cierra Duncan
Defender

Black males of all ages recently convened to receive advice on making intelligent choices, acquiring needed life skills and planning for success.

The fourth annual Smart’n Up Black Male Summit organized by activist Deric Muhammad took place at Lone Star College North Harris. One of its goals is to help change the mindset of Black males.

“You’ve got to know where you are going,” Muhammad told participants. “If you don’t know where you are going, somebody is building a place to put you.”

Black Male Summit organizer Deric Muhammad and three young participants make a point. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Black Male Summit organizer Deric Muhammad and three young participants make a point. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

The summit included workshops on various topics. In “Chess for Success,” Cliff Campbell taught that life skills and strategies could be taken from the game of chess. He is the owner of K.I.N.G. Chess League and a world-class chess player.

“Chess is strategy,” Campbell said. “Your life has to have strategy and planning too. If you’re going around doing what you want to do with no plan, someone is going to lead you where they want you to go.”

He said Black males should focus on having a “good name, good appearance, and good word” and reevaluate their definition of success.

“Success is being the best you can be,” Campbell said. “It is knowing your purpose in life, mastering it, and completing your goals.”

Iman Khalis Rashaad discussed “Run Toward Fear: How to use Faith, Work Ethic and Goal Setting to Get What You Need.” He is the spiritual leader for Ibrahim Islamic Center, a CPA, entrepreneur and mentor.

“If we go to work and are only seeking money, we are in for a life of severe difficulty,” Rashaad said. “If we choose our careers thinking about the service potential and not the profit potential, we begin to become fulfilled and see more value in our work.”

Rashaad said “old-school values” should be brought back. “When I look at the way our youth are going today, it is evident we value playing more than serious work,” he said.

Pastor E.A. Deckard of Greenhouse International Church led a workshop titled “Wake Up! Sounding the Alarm.”

He said young Black males should be aware of the obstacles they will inherently have to face.

“There is a major attack against you,” Deckard said. “There is somebody that would love nothing more than to destroy your future. This is your life; it’s not a game or a video.”
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 5 (November 28, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/11.28.2013_e-full.