Check Out the Sneaky Way Police Are Using Social Media to Bust Teens

By on Dec 11, 2014 | 0 comments

When I was still in the classroom, Myspace, YouTube, and AOL Instant Messenger were all the rage with my students. Instead of passing notes in English class, my students were feverishly texting and IMing each other whenever their teachers had their backs turned. As our society has become more tech savvy, teens and tweens have gone from meeting up afterschool to chat with their friends, to Facebooking, tweeting, and Instagraming every moment of their lives. And police are watching. Recently, Ben Popper of The Verge published an eye-opening and heartbreaking account of Asheem and Jelani Henry, two young men in Harlem whose lives have been turned upside down because of their alleged involvement in a neighborhood gang. Though police and New York City prosecutors haven’t disclosed all of the facts, what seems to have sealed the young men’s fate in the eyes of law enforcement was their social media activity. In each case, police and prosecutors offered Facebook photos, YouTube videos, and Myspace threads as evidence that the Henry brothers were members of a The Goodfellas crew, and therefore complicit in criminal activity under conspiracy statutes. The brothers say being targeted because they hung out with people from their neighborhood is unfair, but law enforcement officials tout programs such as the NYPD’s Operation Crew Cut as a success. “We are coming to find you and monitor every step you take,” Joanne Jaffe, the department’s Housing Bureau chief, told The New York Times in 2013. “And we are going to learn about every bad friend you have.” That’s how Asheem and Jelani got caught up. After pleading guilty to a weapons charge back in 2008 when police found he had an illegal, non-functional gun, Asheem turned his life around. He graduated from high school and even began attending college in New Jersey. But all that changed when police charged him with conspiracy three years later due to his previous affiliation with The Goodfellas. Popper explains: “Determined to fly straight, he kept a clean record after that, graduating high school and heading off to college at William Paterson University in New Jersey. As a freshman, Asheem had finally put some distance between himself and his troubled neighborhood. But in the week of his first midterm exams, his mother called him. ‘You need to come home,’ she told him. ‘The police are looking for you.'” Asheem was confused: “…I asked them, ‘Yo, is that no form of double jeopardy?’ And they said, ‘No, because you pled guilty to the weapon, it opens up [the conspiracy charge]. And because you got pictures with these other guys, they’re saying you guys all knew what was going on.” When a judge told Asheem he’d face 15 to 30 years in prison if he chose to go to trial, he decided to take a plea. Some people will balk at his decision to go to prison for five years instead of 30, but far too often our boys fall into the system that doesn’t care about them and are pressured into taking years-long plea deals instead of spending half their lives in prison. I know; I’ve seen it up close. Sometimes survival is your only option, so you take it. Instead of finishing college, Asheem will be eligible for parole in 2017. While his story is tragic, the case of his younger brother Jelani is even more shocking. Five months after Asheem was arrested and charged with conspiracy, Jelani was picked up and charged with two counts of attempted murder. The evidence? Police said witnesses saw a young, light-skinned Black man fleeing the scene of a shooting, and despite having a clean record prior to being arrested, prosecutors argued Jelani’s social media footprint proved he was a member of the gang. Popper writes: Jelani had never been convicted of a crime, but at the arraignment, the District Attorney’s office described him as a known member of a violent gang. As evidence, Jelani and Alethia say, she pointed to posts about Goodfellas that he had “liked” on Facebook. The judge denied Jelani bail, instead sending him to Rikers Island, one of the nation’s most notorious jails. Jelani spent nearly two years in Rikers Island waiting for his case to go to trial (and refusing to take a plea deal, insisting he was innocent), but after months of delays by prosecutors when additional evidence failed to materialize, the district attorney dropped the case. Scarred by his time in one of the most violent jails in America, these days Jelani is weary of what he posts and likes on social media. “I prefer to just be in the house, not do nothing, be bored out my mind, instead of being outside and being a part of something, which I’m not really.” Despite the large-scale takedowns across NYC (and falling juvenile crime rates across the country), Jelani said many teens still aren’t aware of how their seemingly normal social media activity can be used against them. “People post things just to get likes to be popular,” he told Popper. Though Asheem and Jelani’s story is upsetting, one of the most disturbing bits of information to emerge is the fact that police began social media surveillance of the young men before they were even adults or accused of a crime. In many cases law enforcement officers regularly created fake profiles to sidestep privacy restrictions and gain access to suspected crew members’ accounts. Later, this became the basis for...

5 Apps Brown Boys Will Love

By on Oct 29, 2014 | 4 comments

I don’t know about your #BrownBoyGenius, but my son loves technology. He’s practically taken over my iPad—ok, he has—and now he’s got his eye on my laptop. While it’s tempting to let your kiddo occupy himself with your gadgets while you breathe, cook dinner, or get in a few minutes of silence, making sure our boys aren’t using the wrong things is just as important as letting them become tech experts. According to folks like President Obama and billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, jobs in the future will be all about technology. As a matter of fact, several schools around the country are now teaching coding with many making it mandatory. So where should your genius begin? I reached out to Brotha Tech to get his take on what applications boys will go CRAZY over. Here are 5 super safe apps brown boys will LOVE  (and even stoke their love of learning!) Minecraft Since the moment he downloaded this building game to our iPad, Le Kid has been ADDICTED to Minecraft. I don’t really understand why he loves it so much, but with millions of downloads clearly I’m the odd person out. According to its webside, Minecraft is “a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.” I’d describe it as Legos on a screen because it challenges kids to be creative and build whatever their imaginations can think up. Minecraft is pretty awesome, and even some teachers are using the game to teach math, history, and science. Grab it here.  Lightbot Lightbot gets kids to fall in love with coding by asking them to solve puzzles. The app is available on both iTunes & Google Play, and has two separate games for kids 4-8 and 9+. It’s been hailed by the New York Times as “great fun and does a surprisingly thorough job of introducing some pretty complex principles of programming.” Grab it here. Codecademy  Like Lightbot, Codecademy teaches kids to code…FOR FREE. Codeacademy goes beyond the basics and teaches HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Python, Ruby, and PHP. Codeacademy is perfect for older boys and adults too, and the site boasts several testimonials from people who picked up a new skill and now have jobs in technology. Sign up here. Mystery Math Museum Getting boys excited about math can be a challenge, but Artgig’s educational apps make it much easier. In Mystery Math Museum, kids “use math skills to unlock rooms and passages on their epic journey” while they “help a friendly and curious little ghost rescue the dragonflies that are hidden in Mystery Math Museum.” Mystery Math Museum is geared toward ages 9+, but younger kids can play Artgig’s Mystery Math Town. Grab both here. Garage Band Ok. Garage Band is seriously awesome. I use it to record audio and short stories, but it can do so much more. Garage Band will appeal to boys who want to get their Diddy on and produce music (or podcasts). The Apple app can also teach kiddos how to play a variety of instruments from piano to guitar. Give it a whirl here. Do you know a boy who digs technology? What are his favorite apps? Share them below!  Related Post Yes, Boys Struggle With Body Image Too Leland Melvin Has the BEST NASA Photo Ever, But He... This College Student Makes Six-Figures & is t... How Do You Encourage Your #BrownBoyGenius to...

The Skin They’re In: How Does Your Brown Boy See Himself?

By on Oct 3, 2014 | 6 comments

Brown boys have a unique dilemma. While girls of color have Dora, Doc McStuffins & Princess Tiana boys have few images that affirm them. What do you do?

Floyd Mayweather Can’t Read Well, But Neither Can Many of Our Boys

By on Aug 22, 2014 | 6 comments

50 Cent challenged Floyd Mayweather to a reading challenge, and apparently the boxer struggles to read. But so do many of our boys, and it’s no laughing matter.