Like a holiday present to Detroit, the latest round of federal indictments swept up former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, former mayoral aide Derrick Miller, former Department of Water and Sewerage director Victor Mercado, and contractor Bobby Ferguson and in a single stroke. It's been a long time coming.
After listening to the callers to local talk radio shows carry on for a couple of days I figure Detroiters are close to evenly split on their support or disgust for Kwame. I decided to run by Mulenga Harangua's place and see what conspiracy he thought was behind the indictments. First I stopped by Palmer Park to pick up a few sturdy pieces of dead wood. Mulenga used a wood stove he'd scavenged from some empty building to keep the temperature tolerable inside the house where he squatted.
I walked in through the unlocked door as usual. There he sat near the stove, wearing an antler hat and pecking away at a manual typewriter sitting on an old milk crate.
"Mulenga, man, you've got to get a lock for this door. Anybody can walk in anytime they want."
"Like you just did, my brother?"
"I mean someone who means to do you some harm."
"Ain't nobody mad at me. There are only four houses on this block with anybody in them, and three of us are squatters. Everybody around here knows that I don't have anything worth stealing." Mulenga gestured toward the typewriter. "This is my computer. You want it?"
I shrugged. "So what's with the antlers? Are you a reindeer in training?"
"On your head."
"This is my kinara hat. I just don't have any candles for it yet, made it myself. It's my Kwanzaa present to me. I thought it might catch on and I could sell a few to help get people into the holiday. Santa Claus ain't coming up my street."
"Kwanzaa hat, huh? You know I always felt like the kinara looks kind of like a menorah. You know the Jewish candelabra thing."
Mulenga's face fell, he was obviously ticked off. "There you go with the Jews. Why does everything black have to come from the Jews. Can't we have anything of our own?"
"Hey, don't blame me for the resemblance. Blame Dr. Maulana Karenga, hey, his name sounds kind of like yours. Anyway, he's the one who created Kwanzaa and made up the kinara. Hey, if you're going to have candles there are only so many ways you can hook up the candleholder."
"Well, dig this. The Hanukkah menorah has nine candles and the Kwanzaa kinara has seven. And we use red, black and green candles. The menorah candles are always the same color. That's different. So don't be giving me all this derivative stuff from the Jews." Mulenga puffed up his chest and strutted a few steps.
"OK, OK, don't get all uptight about it. We can have a civil conversation, can't we? Besides, that's not what I came here to talk about. I was wondering what you thought about Kwame and the federal indictments."
Mulenga relaxed and smiled. "Aw, man, ain't nothing to that. He's getting what he deserves."
"What? I thought he was your boy. You were carrying on before about how whitey was taking down the only real black man around here. How they wouldn't let him have all that power. You sounded like some of those fools who call in to talk radio to rant about the conspiracy against Kwame."
Mulenga held his finger in the air like he had a point to make. "The difference between me and those others — and I will not call my brothers fools — is that they do not have a kinara hat. They don't know Kwanzaa. When this mess was announced I was in the middle of a Kwanzaa meditation as I made my hat. I realized that what Kwame stands for is the opposite of the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa. For instance, Ujamaa, the principle of cooperative economics, Kwame and his gang were getting all that money for themselves."
"That's allegation, not fact."
Mulenga just kept talking: "They weren't thinking about community when they were jacking folks for cash. They were thinking about cars and clothes and women. They were holding up work that would have benefited people in the city until they got their cut. Then there is Nia, the principle of purpose for building and developing our community. Those cats were building their own fortunes. What's that the feds charged? Bernard Kilpatrick deposited $600,000 in cash to his bank accounts. He was probably like Tony Soprano with a garbage can full of cash in his backyard. One thing I don't understand, I know who Kwame and his pals are, but who is this Rico dude I keep hearing about? I know Mercado is Puerto Rican, was that his assistant?"
"No, RICO is an acronym. It stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. That law allows the government to charge leaders of corrupt organizations for the crimes they sanctioned even if they didn't do it themselves. The feds say that Kwame ran the mayor's office as a criminal enterprise."
"You mean like some Mafia shit."
Mulenga's lips curled up in a sly smile. "Damn, the brother was slick, running his gang from the top of the heap. I bet some deep deals got made in Manoogian Mansion. No wonder Bing don't want to live there, probably got some serious skeletons in them big old closets. Just like the Bada Bing club on The Sopranos. A bunch of dudes sitting around drinking, playing cards, getting serviced by strippers and planning gangsta shit. He does have a certain genius for criminal enterprise. He wasn't on the street jacking cars. He had the Navigator delivered to him by the police. Then he's like Nixon talking about, 'I am not a crook.' When they start all that denying you know something bad is in the shadows."
"Another Soprano trait seems to be that Kwame liked to get a little taste from everything that went down. But, as bluesman Blind Blake used to sing, 'He's in the jailhouse now.' "
"You know, Soprano seemed like a regular guy. He had charisma and you could get to like him, but deep down inside you knew he was a cold-blooded killer."
I looked over to the typewriter Mulenga had been working at. "What do you have there? Is it your novel?"
Mulenga snatched the paper out of the roller. "It's another Kwanzaa thing I'm working on, Kuumba, the principle of creativity. I thought I'd write a song about how Kwame responded to the federal prosecutor. It's to the tune of that Cee Lo song that's nominated for a Grammy Award."
He held the paper up and started singing:
I hear you chargin' I ran a criminal gang,
and I'm like fuck you
Yea you chargin' all my friends and my daddy too, I'm like fuck you and fuck Bing too
You said I took money, to spend on my honeys
But I ain't got a dime (ain't got a dime)
I'll just get more prison, from your crusadin' mission, I say fuck you