Tricia Bishop’s story “Witness: Accused cult leaders had her committed to keep quiet” , The Baltimore Sun, February 26th, 2010 (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-02-26/news/bal-md.cult26feb26_1_ria-ramkissoon-queen-antoinette-javon-thompson)
A women, Danielle Smith, came out and told about her experiences living with a cult leader. Smith tells about her experience living with the cult leader of the One Mind Ministries cult (discussed in the Washington Post’s article as well http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/28/AR2009032801936.html). Toni Sloan, who goes by Queen Antoinette, starved a 16 month old baby, Javon Thompson, and got Smith admitted into the psychiatric ward of Kings County Hospital in order to keep Smith silent of her crime. Sloan, her daughter Trevia Williams, and an associate Marcus Cobbs are all defendants in the case of the starvation of the child, all three of which pleaded not guilty. According to the testimony given by Smith, Sloan allegedly made the decision to starve the child after he would not say “amen”. Sloan told the other members in the apartment that he was rebellious and should not eat until he did say “amen”. Both Smith and her sister moved into the apartment with Sloan and her four children after Smith became friends with Sloan’s daughter. Marcus Cobbs, who has a child with Danielle Smith’s sister moved in after and another friend of Smith, Ria Ramikissoon, who is the mother of the 16 month child, moved in after. No members living in the apartment attempted to save Javon for the days he was starved. In Smith’s testimony she claimed that the front door of the apartment was always locked and it didn’t seem possible for her to escape with the child from the back door. Smith was scared of what Sloan would do if she had seen Smith try to escape with the baby as Sloan turned the Smith sisters against their family with the fact that their family weren’t strong followers of the bible. Also, in the Washington Post’s article they wrote about how the group prayed over his body when he died, hoping for his resurrection. They then put the child’s body in a suitcase which they left in Philadelphia in a shed for a year.
The fact that the baby was only 16 months old but Sloan still felt that the baby not saying the word “amen” was the baby disrespecting their beliefs is hard to believe. I think for most people, it is hard to wrap our heads around an individual punishing a baby for not speaking a word when at this age babies are just starting to talk. The logic of Sloan is almost infuriating as it seems her own ignorance clouded her judgement and an innocent life was lost because of it. Also, she comes off to be unusually defensive of her beliefs which, from a psychological perspective, can lead one to believe that she herself is not one hundred percent assured of her beliefs. It is hard and almost frightening to imagine the influence of Sloan as she was able to convince the mother of the child that her baby should be severely punished for not complying to speak a simple word. She was also able to convince another mother in the household that a child should be punished in this way when in most cases we often see mothers have sympathy for children even if it is not their own. On top of that, she was also able to convince members in household to join her in putting Danielle Smith into the psychiatric ward, which is interesting because she moved into the apartment being friends with one of the daughters and even bought another friend and her sister in. It is also almost shocking to hear that after they caused this child so much pain, the group prayed for his resurrection but where then able to leave his body in a shed for year. Much like Sloan turned the Smith sister against their own family, she was also able to manipulate most of the members in the household.
In the RELS 341 class we had a lecture where we talked about cults and how they are seen from a negative point of view. This news story also agrees with this point of view. In class we discussed a particular news story in which there was a mass suicide in 1978 due to a mass suicide. The individuals taking part in this activity were all a part of a cult. In addition, many of these people were university students. In class Hexham also talked about how university students are targeted by cults because they have already proved to be able to work under pressure, but they are also independent and young. An example of a cult who aims to get young students is the Unification Church. The Unification Church, as mentioned in class, would go to universities (in America) and hand out pamphlets and invite students over for free dinners. These dinners would then extend their invitations to free seminars and over time the students would be involved with this group. The Unification Church relates to this cult because it demonstrates how these acts can make the entire cult “look bad”. One last in class example of a cult would be the “Heaven’s Gate”. This cult also had a mass suicide that took place in March 1997. The Heavens Gate believed that the Halibut Comet had a spaceship that took you to another planet. The leaders of this cult, Bonnie and Marshal, called themselves “Bo and Peep” while they gave presentations about Extra-terrestrials. This is another example of how in class we discussed about why people look down at cults and how these cults and new religions target their victims by seeming to be very normal and welcoming, but by the time their victims come to realize the threats of the group, it can be more dangerous to leave than to stay in the group.
All in all, I do not agree with the motives of Toni Sloan and how she decided to starve the 16 month old Javon. I am also disgusted by the fact that Danielle or any of the people in the household, did not do anything to protect this baby. In addition, I wonder why the people living in the house did not question Sloan’s mental health, and if they did, why they did they not get help for her. However, when I look at my notes from in class, I do understand the fear that these household members felt from Sloan and her cult. Especially when noticing that she was the cult leader, I realize that the house members may have feared their lives.