International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 3-4 (July-December 1988)

An Open Letter to the Supporters of Mark Curtis

From Keith Morris, father of 15-year-old rape victim, Demetria Morris
October 17, 1988

Dear sir,

My name is Keith Morris and I am the father of Demetria Morris, the 15-year-old girl who was raped by Mark Curtis, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party, on March 4, 1988. Curtis was arrested in my home by two Des Moines police officers who answered a 911 emergency call placed by my 11-year-old son Jason. Both Jason and Demetria identified Curtis as the man who forced his way into the house while my wife and I were out, and attacked Demetria.

I am astonished, dismayed and angry to discover that you, as someone who has been a leader in the trade union and civil rights movement, have agreed to support the claims of Mark Curtis and the Socialist Workers Party that this case is a frameup. You may have acted on the basis of a misguided feeling of labor solidarity, but this has nothing to do with the Mark Curtis case, which involves a vicious rape against a working-class youth.

Mark Curtis was convicted after a three-day trial in which overwhelming evidence was presented of his guilt. Even Curtis’s own lawyer admitted the weight of evidence, saying, “You usually don’t have such evidence and a defendant maintaining he’s not guilty.”

The victim in this case is not Mark Curtis. It is Demetria and my entire family, who have been subjected to a national and international campaign claiming we are part of a police conspiracy to frame up Curtis. I would ask you, why would a black working-class family become involved in such a conspiracy? What do we stand to gain by it? Why would I subject my daughter to such a degrading experience as we have gone through in the last six months?

Let me tell you about the background of myself and my family. I now run a family hauling business out of my home, but I spent many years as a construction worker. I was the first black cement mason in Des Moines and broke the color bar in the union. My wife is a laid off Firestone worker. One of my sons works at the same Swift meatpacking plant that Curtis worked at when he was arrested. My family has never been involved in politics and I had no contact with the Socialist Workers Party until Mark Curtis was arrested in my home last March 4.

Curtis’s supporters in the Socialist Workers Party are circulating a completely fabricated account of the case and what happened at the trial. Words cannot express the contempt I feel for an organization, especially one which claims to fight in the interests of workers, whose leaders are knowingly defending a proven rapist and even attempting to turn him into some kind of civil-rights martyr.

While the members of the SWP apparently have no problem defending a sadistic child rapist, I have been informed that many of those in the labor movement who have been approached by the SWP and signed up to support Mark Curtis know nothing about the facts of this case and have been led to believe that Curtis was arrested on trumped up charges in an anti-labor frameup. Many do not even know that Curtis was convicted of rape and that the victim is a 15-year-old black girl. Are you aware of the following facts about the case:

While Curtis’s supporters claim there is no physical or medical evidence tying Curtis to the attack on my daughter, he was arrested in my house in the middle of an attempted rape! When the police arrived at my home, in response to Jason’s 911 call, Demetria ran out the front door, naked from the waist down, while Mark Curtis ran into the back of the house, with his underpants down around his ankles.

While Curtis’s supporters are trying to portray him as a victim of police brutality, they say nothing about the savage beating that Curtis gave to Demetria. Medical examiners testified that she suffered severe blows to her face and back, leaving bruises as large as a half dollar. During his attack, Curtis cursed her and threatened that he had a knife. This was a brutal and violent assault on a girl who was only 15 years old at the time, and who will carry the psychological scars of this the rest of her life.

  • While Curtis’s supporters have tried to raise questions about the identification of Curtis as the attacker, this is impossible to challenge, since he was arrested on the spot in the middle of the attack. It is an open and shut case, only strengthened by the fact that Demetria and Jason later positively identified Curtis. Why would a teenage girl and her 11-year-old brother lie or identify the wrong man? Curtis’s lawyer admitted in his closing argument that Demetria and Jason were not part of any conspiracy. He even said, “We’ve alleged no conspiracy.”
  • After the arrest of Curtis, the Socialist Workers Party began a campaign of vilification against my family, claiming we were working for the police. I made several attempts to speak with leaders of the Socialist Workers Party in Des Moines, hoping to convince them that they were making a big mistake in defending Curtis. But they were totally uninterested in the facts of this case. Their response was to laugh in my face and flash a wad of hundred dollar bills at me to show how much money they were making from the case. Then they threatened that I would have big trouble if I continued to oppose them.
  • Detectives hired with money contributed to the Mark Curtis Defense Fund—now over $70,000—have followed me and my family. Both Jason and Demetria saw Curtis himself following them at different times last spring. When Demetria went back to school this fall, Curtis’s supporters passed out literature at her high school, to embarrass and intimidate my child. I don’t know whether you are a parent, but how would you feel if this was happening to your daughter?

In order to maintain the claim that Curtis is the victim of a frameup, Curtis and his party had to deal with one big problem: how to explain how Curtis ended up inside my house on the night of March 4, 1988. They came up with a cock and bull story, which not even a little child would believe, about a mysterious woman who approached Curtis while his car was stopped at a red light, persuaded him to drive her to my address, brought him inside my house, and then disappeared. This story has so many holes in it that Curtis’s own lawyer admitted that it was “very unlikely.” How did this mystery woman get a key to my house? Where did she disappear to, since my back door is closed off due to remodeling, and you can only leave by the front door?

In the course of the trial, the evidence emerged which explained what really brought Curtis to my house on that terrible night of March 4, 1988. One day before the attack, a man named Keith Morrison, a reputed drug dealer, and his girl friend Bonita Brown, moved from their house across the street from Mark Curtis to a house at 1545 17th Street, three doors from mine. When Curtis knocked on my door on March 4 and asked for Keith or Bonita and 1545 17th Street, it appears that he was looking for this drug dealer at his new address and came to my house by mistake. Unfortunately, my daughter opened the door and became the victim of his attack.

At the trial, Curtis denied ever meeting Keith Morrison, and then claimed that members of the Socialist Workers Party are not allowed to use drugs. But Bonita Brown testified that Mark Curtis had spoken to Keith Morrison on several occasions.

This not only provides independent confirmation of the truth of Demetria’s story, but it also exposes what kind of a man Mark Curtis is. I cannot believe that you are willing to associate yourself and your organization with a man who is a convicted rapist, a proven liar and probably a drug user.

Certainly if one of your members was arrested in a situation like Mark Curtis, caught in the act in a vicious crime, you would not tolerate his attempt to escape the consequences of his crime by claiming that his arrest, regardless of the facts and evidence against him, was an attack on your organization.

You may have supported Curtis because you believed it was a matter of police frameup and brutality. But you have not been given the true story of this case: besides Curtis and the police, there is my daughter and my family. What about our rights and justice for Demetria? Aside from the requirements of simple human decency, you have a responsibility as a labor leader to consider the fact that this case involves a vicious attack on a working class girl.

By supporting Curtis without knowing the real facts of this case, you are bringing disgrace on yourself and your organization. How will your members feel when the truth finally comes out, and they discover that their good name has been associated with a proven rapist? What will happen when there is a real case of police frameup or violence? Won’t this phony case discredit the genuine ones?

Curtis’s supporters, and the people who align themselves with Curtis, to me are like jackals. They can only find strength in an unthinking pack. They need this type of association, right or wrong, moral or immoral, to fill a void in their lives.

There is a definite danger here, not just because of what they’re doing to my family, but in the total disregard of basic honesty. If you help them succeed in this, there is a question you must ask yourself: what are you willing to do next? Are you so morally weak that you will prostitute yourself and your standards for these people, blindly? If so, you are probably more dangerous than they are. You may find these words to be a little harsh, but it’s a very harsh situation.

In closing, my family and I would like to say something about the charges of police frameup and police brutality. I have seen both ends of “law and order.” I personally, along with others, fought against the police in the 1960s, and even afterwards, to win greater respect for people’s rights, and in my opinion, conditions in Des Moines have improved greatly since then. Curtis and his followers are using the charge of police brutality as a smokescreen, but my family will always be grateful to the two Des Moines policemen who came to our house on March 4, 1988. These officers saved my children. They not only stopped Curtis from continuing his rape of my daughter, they may have saved the lives of Demetria and Jason.

This man lived only eight blocks from my house, and by asking for people who had just moved in on the block, Keith Morrison and Bonita Brown, and a number, 1545 17th Street, he left a trail of evidence leading to people who knew him and could identify him. The question is, could this man have left my children alive under these circumstances, and expected not to get caught? As we saw at the trial, it was their testimony which convinced the jury of Curtis’s guilt. It is very likely that if Jason had not had the presence of mind to call 911, and the police had not responded so quickly, my wife and I would have come home to find our children murdered, and Curtis would never have had to answer for his crime.

If you now realize that your endorsement of Curtis was based on insufficient and false information, this letter is an opportunity for you to withdraw your support. Every fact which I have presented to you can be checked against the official court transcripts. At any rate, I would appreciate a reply explaining why you decided to take a stand against my daughter and my family, and what your attitude is now after reading this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Keith Morris