A group planted a Peace Tree outside of the mosque last week. Back in November, after the FBI arrested a “terrorist” who was going to blow up the Tree Lighting Ceremony in Pioneer Square with materials which they provided, the local papers reported that the bomber was an occasional member of the mosque down the street. Over Thanksgiving Break, someone threw a pop bottle full of gasoline through one of the mosque’s windows and it caught fire. The building was saved by a police officer cruising the neighborhood who spotted the flames. I heard the sirens and then some guy yelling “the police” and diving into the bushes, but did not get up to check it out—it was cold that night. The office was destroyed, but the building saved.
Later that week, the progressive community rallied around the mosque to listen to speakers and surround the building with a candle light vigil. Mark and I went with our candle lanterns which we take camping and stood in the rain straining to hear the speakers. It was lovely when we all spread out around the building. Some of us were silent—others were cruising for friends. For several weeks after, carpenters donated time to rebuild the space. The tree is the continuation of that support. It’s a nice tree. Evergreen.
During the same time that the rebuilding was going on, the FBI was interviewing neighbors, searching the grounds for clues. There wasn’t much—over Thanksgiving, most of the neighborhood is away, visiting family. They found a flashlight and a brick. When they talked to one of our neighbors, he mentioned having a flashlight stolen from his porch, but did not recognize the one the FBI had. I saw them talking with the family when I drove by one day. Then, the local paper reported that our neighbor—Cody—was a suspect in the case. “No way,” I thought. “I’ve talked with this guy. He was a wild child in his youth, but he would not do that.” He has a four year old son now and sits watching him play in the yard. He planted sunflowers out front, and, unlike his reticent mom, he’s a chatter. Mark gathered that he had a fish farm in Central America for several years which was taken out by a hurricane, so he can home, moved in with his mom, and enrolled at LB. He was doing pretty well there and feeling good about his life. I looked at the reported evidence—a brick (they live in a brick house) and a flashlight which was not theirs. Nothing else. The address was in the paper.
The next day, I noticed that the car was parked on the grass in front of their door, like a barrier. No one was home for days—I kept my eye out. Then, early in the morning, I caught them.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Not good,” Robin shook her head. “People keep driving by and screaming at us, leaving stuff on the doorstep.”
“I didn’t do it,” Cody said, tearfully.
“I know you didn’t,” I assured him—if I had any doubts, they were erased at that moment.
Robin went on to describe the night the FBI descended on their little house. They came at around three in the morning, banging on the door. They searched the house by flashlight, barging into the room where Cody’s son, Jake, was sleeping. “They wouldn’t let Jake leave the room, “ she said. “He was screaming—big guys with flashlights in the dark, but they wouldn’t let him come out with me.” They put Robin in one room, Cody in another, the child in the bedroom, screaming, for hours. “He’ll get over it,” they told Robin when she protested. They left at dawn, taking a bunch of stuff with them, leaving the entire family shaken and venerable.
Cody did his best to protest his innocence. He gave an interview to the local paper, which they printed, after rehashing the entire story, including his arrest. Within two weeks, the FBI cleared his name—but we never read that in the paper. In fact, when Cody had a nervous breakdown, about a month later, they ran through the ENTIRE story again, even though his name had been cleared by that time.
They have moved. The child did not want to go back into the house—the bogeymen were there. People continued to harass them. They felt threatened—and I believe they were. I will miss them; they were quiet, hardworking people struggling to make ends meet in a tiny brick house, which is now empty. And this is what bothers me about the entire episode….no one knows. The entire community gathered around the mosque, sending flowers and aid, giving speeches and planting trees for peace. But no one did anything to protect this small, vunerable family from attack. I understand that the police make mistakes—that they have to follow up every lead they have, that there was pressure to solve the case quickly. But—and it is a huge but—no child should ever be terrorized, even if their parents are guilty. No local newspaper should continue to report that someone is guilty when they are not. And we need to remember that poor families are vunerable in ways that the rich are not, and work to protect them. Cody was left to hang on his own.
He’s now receiving psychiatric care. Jake has created a spuerhoro—Jakeman—to protect himself.