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Well, That’s Neighborly by John Reed



A Choice

They please me not—these solemn songs

That hint of sermons covered up.

‘T is true the world should heed its wrongs,

But in a poem let me sup,

Not simples brewed to cure or ease

Humanity’s confessed disease,

But the spirit-wine of a singing line,

Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!

—by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1904)

The poet’s namesake: Dunbar Village Housing Projects, known simply as “Dunbar.”

West Palm Beach, Florida. 1940: a 300 unit project constructed to house black servants in segregated Florida. Seventeen acres, enclosed by eight-foot-tall iron bars, painted prison-green. Concrete buildings, painted mustard yellow: barracks style. Wooden porches.

Sixty years later: Drugs, crime, illiteracy, unemployment, prostitiution. Gold-plated teeth. Festering garbage and soiled diapers. Clotheslines drooping across patchy lawns. The pitter-patter of gunfire. Some windows barred, some broken, some boarded up. Average rent: $150 a month. Households living in poverty: 60%. By 2007, police respond to emergencies in Dunbar twice a day.

Beyond the bars of the village: warehouses and train tracks. Beyond that: the million dollar homes of the Intracoastal waterway. Beyond that: Palm Beach, the wealthiest homes in the United States, and residents sunning themselves, tan, oiled, fat and sleek like walruses still digesting yesterday’s squid.

Paticiea Matlock, Dunbar resident: “So a lady was raped. Big deal.”

Haiti: 2000. Rigged elections, a ruler by decree, and a nation once again on the brink of bloody civil war. And: a woman with her five-year old son. Penniless, starting over at 28 years old, she fled to Florida, where she found housing in Dunbar Village. There, her son’s bicycle was stolen, her car was stolen, and their house was robbed.

She assayed to keep her son and herself away from the dangers of Dunbar through Christianity and indoor-living: “I know there are bad people there. Even if I call the police, they will kill me and my son. That’s why I don’t stay outside, I stay in my room.”

June 18, 2007. She worked all day, delivering phone books. 9:00 PM: she returned home—building 1843, Unit 2—to fix late dinner for her son. A knock at the door. A young man with braids. The tires on her truck, he said, were flat. The truck was on loan from a friend; she had not yet replaced her stolen car.

“When I go outside, I see I didn’t have any flat tires.”

Three more young men. Their faces: masked with t-shirts.

“The one in the front had a big gun and two others had a shotgun. I couldn’t see their face. They said, ‘Give us the money.’ I said I didn’t have any. They said, ‘If you yell we kill you and your son.'”

Court documents identify two of the guns: a .45 caliber handgun and an AR-15 Assault Rifle.

In lieu of money, the men forced her inside, and up to a room on the second floor, where they tore off her clothing.

“Some of them had sex with me twice, some of them had sex with me three times. They’re beating me up. They make me do those things over and over. The man with the big gun, he put the gun inside of me. They have sex with me in the front, in my anus. I said please, I don’t do that kind of stuff.”

Her twelve-year old son was interned in a room down the hall. She pleaded for his life.

The men took turns beating the boy and beating and sexually accosting his mother. They punched, kicked, etc., but also applied household items—such as bottles, soap, a broom, dinnerware and lightbulbs—to the undertaking, which endured for three hours.

Finally, the son was reunited with his mother, so that the young men could watch her perform oral sex on him. Before consummating the act, she told him: “It doesn’t matter, to save your life child, to do it. I know you love me, and I love you too.”

The attackers attempted a clean-up of the evidence, by way of chemical burn. In the bathtub, the mother and son were doused with hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, alcohol and nail polish remover. The boy lost his sight when the solutions were decanted into his eyes.

As the pair lay naked in the tub, the men resolved to set them aflame, but they were unable to locate a lighter. The men withdrew, threatening to kill the pair if they moved.

The mother screamed for help. Neighbors took no action: “Nobody came for us, nobody even called the police for us. People in the next apartment, if they are talking, I can hear everything they say.”

They cowered where they were for thirty minutes.

One of the young men came back—to rape the mother again. In an effort to misdirect the investigation, he identified several rival gang-members—writing their names on a scrap of paper—and directed the victims to their whereabouts.

He added a Sony Playstation 2 to his haul—jewelry, cash, dvds and electronics on the order of a several hundred dollars were stolen—and departed for a second time.

The mather and son remained in the bathroom, wailing, for three more hours. When they fled the scene, neighbors did not respond to pleas for help. Since the truck had been stolen, they walked to the nearest medical facility, the Good Samaritan Medical Center, one mile away.

Four weeks later, the mother talked to reporters while her son—who had largely regained his sight—remained behind a closed door, crying audibly.

“He’s so angry, he said we never should have moved to Dunbar Village.”

The mother’s boyfriend would speak to newspaper reporters: “The boy, he’s still grieving. He cannot accept that he had sex with his mama. Nobody can talk to him. He feels like nobody loves him. I don’t think there’s no way that little boy is ever going to forget that.”
 The man, 36, said that he, the woman and her son were still afraid of reprisals from the gang, and that the boy was having trouble returning to school (seventh grade). “He’s afraid to be by himself. He’s going to go to school, but he’s just not happy.”

“He wanted his mama to go to school with him.”



July 17, 2007: JD

I spent time in West Palm beach as a young man. I lived in a rooming house on Rosemary Ave. We had a house full of shit-talking brothers and we would play hoops and pool our money to get pints. West Palm was dangerous then but not a war zone like it is today. There was a sense of community and caring for each other. Everybody in my house was working or spent the day looking for work. The community next-door Palm Beach is one of very rich people. Perhaps the greater area should pool police resources and help end this problem. I do not think this degree of unlawfullness is in every city. But if so, lets bring home our troops and stop helping Iraqi police and help our own police. What if these women being raped were across the bridge into Palm Beach?

The two lead investigators in the case—Detective David Lefont and Detective Lori Colombino—were honored by the Police Department for their determination and innovative investigation, which included work in the field and on networking sites. Detective Columbino was named Investigator of the year for 2006; Detective Lefont, Investigator of the year for 2006.

Arrested for the attack: Jakaris Taylor (15), Avion Lawson (14), Nathan Walker (16), and Tommy Poindexter (18).

Mr. Taylor had lived in Dunbar Village for three years. Mr. Lawson lived part-time with his grandmother, who lived across the street from Mr. Taylor. While Mr. Walker did not live in Dunbar Village at the time of the attack, he had lived there previously. Mr. Poindexter did not and had not lived in Dunbar Village, the reputation of which attracted a “bad element.”

As of this writing: at least two additional teens, suspected by police, have not yet been charged. Their roles: not yet assessed.

Set to stand trial as adults, the four teens—who played together on the “Dunbar Basketball Team,” a briefly sponsored public work—now face life-sentences.

All of the suspects have been isolated from the general prison population—both to avoid collusion, and to protect them from other prisoners. The teens have been caught trying to pass letters to each other. Unknown: to what extent they have succeeded in parlaying messages, and how that will impact the criminal proceedings.

Evidence released in August 2008 linked Mr. Taylor to the scene by a fingerprint. In a letter to his pregnant girlfriend, Mr. Taylor speculated that he would be released.

“They ain’t got nothing on me but a latent fingerprint.”

Conflicting initial statements made to police, Mr. Taylor denied being present at the crime—claiming that his fingerprint was recovered from an object that was incidentally transported into the victim’s home.

When Mr. Taylor was eight years old, his father passed away. Of the four suspects, none lived with their biological father present in the home.

Mr. Taylor: “It’s really a blessing for me to be a father. Because I grew up without my daddy.”

Mr. Taylor’s mother, Jacqueline Minor: arrested numerously on charges of theft and fraud. Employed by McDonald’s, Mrs. Minor, 33 years old, emphasized education in the lives of her three children, all born to different fathers.

“My son is not a rapist,” said Mr. Walker’s mother, Ruby Walker, who told reporters she had fended off an attempted rape just days prior to the Dunbar Village attack: “My son came to me crying and said he wouldn’t ever do that to anyone.”

Mrs. Walker’s criminal record: no fewer than nine arrests, on charges including aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and battery. Like Mr. Walker’s father, Mrs. Walker’s history unfolds a losing battle with drug abuse.

The family moved often, and lived in poverty.

Mr. Walker’s link to the scene: a palm print, semen DNA recovered from the victim’s dress, and semen DNA evidence recovered from the outside of a condom, the inside of which contained the semen DNA of Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Poindexter, also linked to the crime by semen DNA recovered from the victim’s dress, identified Mr. Taylor as the ringleader, and told police that he wished the victims to know the crime was not his idea, and that he knew he had been at fault. Mr. Lawson and Mr. Taylor expressed their own apologies, explaining that robbery was the impetus for the break-in (they had heard that gold was present in the home). They pointed to Mr. Poindexter as the ringleader.

Mr. Lawson, in a letter to prosecutors, related an account that put him at the barrel of Mr. Poindexter’s gun: “If I would of ran I would of got shot or be dead. So I had no choice. He put it to my head and said ‘Do it.’ And when I stopped I tried to leave. He told me to get back down or he’ll kill me.”

In order to raise money and awareness of the plight of Mr. Lawson, friends and family have printed t-shirts bearing the admonition “Free Lil’ Avion.”

Relatives reported that, as a nine-year-old boy, Mr. Lawson had been present when his older sister “accidentally” knifed her boyfriend during a physical confrontation. The wound proved fatal.

Mr. Lawson admitted to taking the victim’s truck and two playstation video games, which were found at the home of his grandmother.

Mr. Poindexter—who, like the other teens, had previous run-ins with authorities for such infractions as assault, trespassing and theft—was already in jail for marijuana posession when police arrested him for the June 18 crimes.

Harriet Rogers, Mr. Poindexter’s mother, told reporters that her son’s depression was treated with a prescribed course of Zoloft. (Among the side effects of Zoloft: psychosis.) A recovering crack cocaine addict—Mr. Poindexter had smoked cocaine throughout his childhood—he had recently joined the Job Corp, with the ambition of becoming a guidance counselor.

Ms. Rogers learned of her son’s involvement in the gang rape through his televised arrest.

Joseph Trowell, Ms. Roger’s fiancee: “They’re trying to make him out to be a monster, and he’s not.”

On myspace, Mr. Poindexter was identified as an associate member of the Buck Wild Gang, of Riviera Beach Florida, which is associated with robbings and shootings, some fatal, in the area.

Motivation for the attack: none known. Anti-Haitian sentiment may or may not have played a role. Teens were known to congregate in the vicinity of an overgrown tree behind Building 1843.

A neighbor, with a young daughter: “I could have never, ever believed that would happen six doors down from me.”

A cellphone camera photographed and recorded the gang rape and assaults.

Doudou Diène, The United Nations “Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” conducted a two week tour of the United States, May 18-June 6th, as part of a 2008 ineistigation.

On the itinerary: a two day stop in Miami Florida.

During a scheduled public hearing, minorities told their stories of impropriety and prejudice to Mr. Diène. Acclaimed author, Edwidge Danticat, recounted the treatment of her uncle, Joseph Nosius Dantica, while in the custody of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security). When fighting broke out in haiti, the 81 year-old minister, a cancer survivor, sought temporary entry into the United States. Military forces had seized the roof of his church as an outpost. For thirty years, Mr. Dantica had travelled freely between Haiti and the United States. He presented his paperwork—visa and passport—and was promptly remanded to the Krome Detention Center in Miami. Despite his objections his perscription medications—for high blood pressure and inflammation of the prostate—were impounded. Prior to his immigration hearing, Mr. Dantica experienced the onset of vomitting and seizure; medics diagnosed the sympotoms as “malingering” or “faking,” but the indications persisted. He was hospitalized; a doctor examined him a day later. An hour and a half subsequent to that visit, he died alone—his family had been refused access to the octogenerian indentifiable to authorities as “Alien 27041999.”

An outpouring of sympathies offered aid to the victims of the Dunbar victims. The boy was offered full college tuition.

On Saturday, August 11, 2008, a prayer vigil was held outside the green bars of Dunbar Village. The vigil drew hundreds, who prayed and held hands for two hours.

Terriel Byrd, Associate Professor of Urban Christian Ministry, Palm Beach Atlantic University: “We are saying, for the next couple of hours, ‘Satan: we’re going to tear your kingdom down.'”

West Palm Beach officials announced that plans to improve the conditions of Dunbar Village were already underway—a Dunbar Village police officer, security cameras, a single-entrance gate, night lamps (with bulletproof casing). Foremost on the agenda: the housing authority re-initiated a campaign to demolish Dunbar Village (Congressional cutbacks had depleted the budget of the Housing Authority, and denied grant-moneys to facilitate the removal of residents and housing from the acreage).

West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel: “I have a deep, passionate belief that Dunbar Village should be razed and something much safer, more decent should be put in its place.”

When Dunbar Village basketball courts were replaced by volleyball courts, residents complained that their kids didn’t play volleyball.

The volleyball net quickly “dissappeared.”

January 8, 2008: on a surprise visit, Reverend Al Sharpton promised to support residents in their efforts to save their Village from destruction.

Reverend Sharpton cited gentrification: “Certainly the savage event that occurred there is something that was appalling and horrible to all of us around the country, but you don’t victimize the victims. The people that live there are the victims of that kind of terrorism. They are not the perpetrators, and I think they are being victimized twice.”

On March 11, 2008, Reverend Sharpton decried the “unequal” and “unjust” treatment of the Dunbar Village rape suspects: “You can’t have one level of justice for whites and those with money and another level for blacks that live in Dunbar Village.”

Reverend Sharpton referenced a rape case in Boca Raton, saying that the six white teens in that crime had not been charged as adults. Reverend Sharpton was mistaken. Five of the six teens, 14 through 18, were charged as adults. Only a thirteen year-old would face juvenile proceedings.

In August, 2008, a settlement was reached as to the fate of Dunbar: 13 buildings, comprising 36 of the 61 units, were slated for destruction. Unit 2—the scene of the gang rape—would be spared. The mother and son had not returned to live in Unit 2 since the night of the crimes. A seperate settlement was reached in a lawsuit the mother and son had filed against the city; those terms were not made public. An important determining factor in the civil suit: security initiated at Dunbar eight months before the attacks had been terminated due to insufficient funds.

October 28, 2009: demolition of the 13 Dunbar Village buildings began.

“She’s not the same, like she was before,” said the father of a fifteen year old girl who was raped as she returned home from the supermarket. As she entered the Woodlake Apartment Complex—a middle/upper middle class enclave also in West Palm Beach—she was attacked by a knife-wileding man who dragged her into a grove of palm trees. The incident—July 18, 2007—recalled the Dunbar Village gang rape case, which had taken place exactly one month before.

The girl sat silent, as her father spoke to reporters:

“She was a funny girl, you know? Now she’s always sleeping, sitting and sleeping.”

Like the victims of the Dunbar village case, the girl and her father hailed from Haiti; the girl had been friends with the boy assaulted in that crime.

Time of the Woodlake Apartments rape: 11AM.

It was a bright, sunny day: 86˚.

John Reed is the author of the novels A Still Small Voice (Delta, 2001), Snowball’s Chance (Roof Books, 2002), and The Whole (MTV Press, 2005), as well as a play adapted from the works of William Shakespeare, All the World’s A Grave (Plume, 2008). His new book, from which this preceding piece is an out-take, Tales of Woe will be released on August 17 by MTV books.