Leon Benson: sentenced to life in prison in 1999, for a crime he did not commit. We need some more attention to his case, and you can help by reaching out, spreading the word, listening to Leon’s story. Thank you for caring about the truth.
This was reblogged from here. May 7th 2013
Six executives of IRP Solutions appeal their criminal case, where they are convicted of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States of America (Free-Press-Release.com) May 7, 2013 — A Just Cause and Friends of Justice have been investigating a Colorado federal criminal case involving six businessmen believed to have been wrongly convicted. “This is a case involving six executives of a software development company called IRP Solutions Corporation,” says Sam Thurman of A Just Cause. “A Just Cause, Friends of Justice and other advocates for the defendants refer to the case as the IRP6 (http://www.freetheirp6.org),” adds Thurman. Court records show defendants as Kendrick Barnes, Gary L. Walker, Demetrius K. Harper, Clinton A. Stewart, David A. Zirpolo and David A. Banks.
After reviewing court records, A Just Cause and Friends of Justice are convinced that this case represents the dark side of our justice system. “This is a story about how prosecutorial tunnel vision created a tragic communication failure,” says Dr. Alan Bean, Executive Director, Friends of Justice.
“Anyone that looks at this case says that it should have been handled as a civil matter from the very beginning. We trust that the appellate process works to give justice to the IRP6,” says Thurman. “Court documents even show an FBI letter dated August 8, 2005 from Supervisory Special Agent Jean Andersen, Denver Division, replying to an alleged victim of the IRP case, that it was a civil matter and there was no basis for criminal action,” adds Thurman. But, Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Kirsch pursued prosecuting the case. According to a 2005 search warrant affidavit, the men were accused of mail and wire fraud. The indictment did not come until June, 2009. Trial and conviction occurred in 2011.
According to court documents, the six Colorado businessmen developed software which could be used by law enforcement agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the New York City Police Department.
Trial records show that the men defended themselves pro se. “Our court appointed attorneys were not doing their job to put together a viable defense,” says Gary Walker, CEO, IRP Solutions Corporation. “They wanted us to do a plea deal,” Walker adds. The case is currently under appeal based on Fifth Amendment Prohibition of Compulsory Testimony, Sixth Amendment Right to Present a Defense and Speedy Trial Act Violation.
The prosecution rested its case nearly a week and a half earlier than anticipated. As a result, defense witnesses were not available to testify. During a sidebar discussion, Judge Christine M. Arguello stated that the defendants would need to take the stand or she would rest their case for them. “If we didn’t take the stand and the judge rested our case, it would have eliminated any opportunity to present a complete defense,” recalls David Banks, COO IRP Solutions Corporation.
When the defendants requested the transcripts for the date of October 11, 2011, they discovered the sidebar discussion was missing. “That short sidebar discussion implicates Judge Arguello making statements that violated our Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to testify in a criminal trial,” says Banks. “We had absolutely no intention of testifying. We were forced to either testify or kiss our defense goodbye,” Banks adds. “This makes you step back and say, ‘What? In America? This happens in America?'”
“The Court Reporters Act, 28 U.S.C.A 753(b) makes it mandatory by Congress, that a court reporter shall record all proceedings verbatim in criminal cases held in open court which includes sidebars”, says Attorney Gwendolyn Solomon (attorney for five of the six defendants). According to Solomon the statute reads, “…all original notes are required to be preserved and available in the clerk’s office. The reporter or other individual designated to produce the record shall attach his official certificate to the original shorthand notes or other original records so taken and promptly file them with the clerk who shall preserve them in the public records of the court for not less than ten years.”
Court records show repeated motions and requests by defendants to Judge Arguello for the unedited version of the sidebar transcripts, but all requests were denied by the court. Subsequently, multiple post-trial motions were filed by attorneys requesting a hearing to resolve the transcript issue with the court reporter, but those requests were also denied by Judge Arguello. “I made several attempts to obtain the transcripts from the clerk’s office, but have been continually told by the court reporter and the clerk’s office that the sidebar portion is unavailable,” says Ethel Lopez of A Just Cause. “We believe that this critical piece of the transcript was deliberately destroyed or purposely not being provided to protect the Judge,” adds Lopez.
“Mr. Dorschner (Public Relations Officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver) told me that we should file a lawsuit against court reporter Darlene Martinez,” says Tanique Wright of A Just Cause.
“A Just Cause is planning to assist with any lawsuit that is filed against Ms. Martinez,” Thurman adds. “A Just Cause feels that destruction of court records is a criminal act to obstruct justice and we will continue to seek relief from the Department of Justice,” says Thurman.
“It seems that there is no accountability when something like this happens (court records missing) so A Just Cause has sought assistance from both Congressman Doug Lamborn (R- Colorado , 5th Congressional District) and Senator Mark Udall (D – Colorado) to inquire into this matter,” Thurman concludes. A Just Cause has also made request of the United States Attorney John Walsh (Denver) to investigate the matter regarding missing transcripts, but those requests have been denied.
For more information about the story of the IRP6 or for copies of the legal filings go to http://www.freetheirp6.org . For more information on the ongoing appeal or A Just Cause, contact Sam Thurman at (877) 573-5554 or visithttp://www.a-justcause.com.
Related story: Racial Bias Is the Foundation for a Federal Criminal Case Against African American Businessmen in Colorado http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/5/prweb10693207.htm
(Case of the IRP 6 is currently under appeal – US District Court for the District of Colorado, Honorable Christine M. Arguello, D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA; Case Nos: NO. 11-1487, Case Nos. 11-1488, 11-1489, 11-1490, 11-1491 and 11-1492)
Note: A Just Cause is collaborating with Jabar International on the development of documentary telling the IRP Story – “What Color Is The American Dream? The IRP6 Story: An American Dream Turned Nightmare” (available on YouTube).
See for the IRP 6: http://www.a-justcause.com/#!irp6—the-irp-solutions-story/c1im3
This is reblogged from Lockup Reform:
April 22nd 2013
The 2002 conviction of Jeffrey Havard reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.
I was not familiar with Havard’s case until a colleague and friend, Lori Howard (@LoriHoward16), who is a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted (she’s got a one-track mind and a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago), started sharing bits and pieces of his story with me. Her devotion to freeing Havard inspired me to examine the facts for myself, so guided by Lori, I started reading and reading on the case.
I advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights in my own work, but really focus my efforts on people held in prolonged solitary confinement, so this was new territory for me. But as I started processing the information, the facts and the countless stories on Havard, I was appalled. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, Bruce Fischer provides a good background on GroundReport. Or here’s the real quick and dirty of it (as posted on the official Free Jeffrey Havard Facebook page):
Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, each of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life. As reported in a recent story on WAPT News:
With these injustices in mind, new information and details have continued to surface in connection with the original evidence incriminating Havard, which has from the start been perceived by many as dubious at best (not even). Recently there has been increased media attention to the already well known, controversial case, including a story published yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post:
Now the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited. As stated by The Clarion-Ledger:
And now I give props to the good people at The Clarion-Ledger for their huge show of support and efforts to finally get Havard the trial he should have had over a decade ago:
The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:
Wrapping up, The Clarion-Ledger concludes:
In his latest petition, Havard asks the court for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least,” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidenciary hearing in federal court. I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.
The Report by Jon Gould is readable here: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241389.pdf
Public release date: 13-Mar-2013
Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases
Why do innocent people go to jail in the United States every year for violent crimes they did not commit? It’s a serious question representing the ultimate miscarriage of justice—taking away the freedom of a factually innocent person while also allowing the guilty person to remain free. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wanted to learn answers to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.
Jon B. Gould, J.D., Ph.D., a professor and the director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University and his team of researchers conducted a three year, first of its kind, large-scale empirical study Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice employing social scientific methods.
It was funded by NIJ, and an NIJ video features Gould discussing wrongful convictions. After identifying 460 cases employing sophisticated analytical methods matched with a qualitative review of the cases from a panel of experts, 10 statistically significant factors were identified that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near miss” (a case in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial).
“Surprisingly unlike airplane crashes or near midair collisions where the National Transportation Safety Board moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes, wrongful convictions have rarely been investigated beyond a specific case study,” says Gould. “This is especially troubling since our criminal legal system is predicated on finding defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before imprisoning them.”
10 Factors Identified in Wrongful Convictions
- State death penalty culture/state punitiveness
- Strength of prosecution’s case
- Prosecution withheld evidence (Brady violation)
- Forensic evidence errors
- Strength of defendant’s case
- Age of defendant
- Criminal history of defendant
- Intentional misidentification
- Lying by non-eyewitness
- Family witness testified on behalf of defendant
The resulting 10 factor model applied by Gould and his team can be used to accurately predict an erroneous conviction versus a “near miss” nearly 91 percent of the time and is a useful tool for jurisdictions around the country to adopt remedies to address the 10 weaknesses with little cost according to Gould. The biggest investment is time, training and the acknowledgement that there is room for improvement from police, prosecutors and defense interests. A key to the model’s development was the unprecedented cooperation of an expert panel composed of stakeholders from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Police Foundation, National Innocence Project and National District Attorneys Association.
From the quantitative and qualitative analysis, Gould and his team determined that prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis. This is followed by several opportunities along the way to identify the innocent before they are wrongfully convicted. For example, if forensic testing was conducted earlier and the results became available sooner to investigators innocent suspects could be freed. But faulty identifications, absence of early forensic test results, and inadequate investigation of alibis leads to what Gould characterizes as a “perfect storm” of errors made worse by collective tunnel vision. It should be noted much of this is unintentional.
The 10 factors in various combinations create this tunnel vision where a prosecutor with a weak case focuses on an accused even more intently rather than considering alternative suspects precisely because tunnel vision has set in – in other words the case seems to add up from the investigation but is sufficiently weak relying on perhaps a misidentification.
For Gould this was the most surprising result of his research because he and his team expected strong prosecutorial cases to result in wrongful convictions since the evidence was compelling for the prosecutor to seek conviction but instead the study revealed the contrary. This led the team to look at weak defense counsel, poor explanation/presentation of forensic evidence, and police practices that could trigger the course of events spiraling out of control to a wrongful conviction because the weak prosecution case in turn is not adequately challenged by the defense attorney and the prosecution for one reason or the other may fail to disclose exculpatory evidence- a Brady violation.
Finally, the wrongfully convicted skew toward young suspects as well as those who have a prior criminal record. In other words, the defendants are not in a strong position to demand more from prosecutors or even their own defense counsel because they do not have the wherewithal to challenge the charges.
The study concludes that the social science approach is valid and effective in studying miscarriages of justice and should continue. Gould especially is interested in more research on the “near miss” cases to better learn how the criminal justice system can “get it right” when confronted with an innocent defendant. In the coming weeks, Gould will present his research in Seattle, Miami, New York City, Albany, NY, and North Carolina.
American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.
We are glad that Doneale gets some more attention with his case. We need much more openness into how the prosecution runs its investigations. There are more cases for innocence in Nevada we have not even begun to dig into. We are thankful that Kirsten Lobato‘s case has caught on in the public eye. Now let’s do it with Doneale, Lerlene, Richard, Marritte and others as well!
From: Nevada Innocence Network:
A new website was launched to promote the case of Doneale Feazell: Donealefeazell.com.
Steve Barket has launched this site to find out and publish the true story on this new website.
We have known Doneale for a few years and we know his case is very much worth investigating.
We hope the truth will be revealed to all.
From: The Daily Beast
Dec. 31st 2012
In the new documentary ‘West of Memphis,’ Damien Echols tells the story of how he was wrongly convicted of a heinous murder. Here, he shares how 18 years in prison changed his approach to life.
Brett has an execution date of Nov. 13th, you can still help to save his life by signing the petition:
From the British website CagePrisoner
Written by CP Editor Wednesday, 08 August 2012
[pic] Hamja Ahsan (left) whose brother Talha Ahsan has been fighting extradition to the US from prison in the UK for 6 years, and Robert King
Racial profiling, torture, solitary confinement and decades in prison fighting for justice. These may be signatures of the US-led war on terror but such practices have been in motion for a long time. Robert King, one of the ‘Angola 3’, knows first-hand what it meant then as much as it does now and discusses his thoughts with CagePrisoners.
“…if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this? You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror. So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism. And it is. And it’s nothing new. It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out. And that’s why it’s so important that people in America, people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on…”
The Angola 3 – Robert Hillary King, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace – met in Angola Prison in Louisiana. The three men were politically radicalized after they were introduced to members of the Black Panther Party, and subsequently founded a local prison chapter of the Panthers. The men organized strikes and sit-ins – they were “troublemakers” – and perhaps as a result, in 1972 Albert and Herman were convicted of a murder that few people believe they committed, the stabbing of 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller. Robert was not even at Angola Prison at the time, but was still investigated for involvement in the murder. Even Miller’s widow doubts that that the Angola 3 are responsible for her husband’s murder.
There was no physical evidence against them, and some people have said that the prosecution’s star witness, Hezekiah Brown, agreed to testify in exchange for cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and even a potential pardon.
Each member of the Angola 3 was placed in solitary confinement in 1972, spending 23 hours a day in 6×9 foot cells. Robert remained there for 29 years, after being convicted for the murder of another prisoner in Angola by an all white jury. His conviction was overturned in 2001, but Albert and Herman are still locked up.
AS: You were born in 1942. What was it like growing up as an African American in that time in the States?
RK: I’m a post World War II baby, and that means I was born right after World War II. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is the Southern part, but it could have been New York or Philadelphia or it could have been DC… Might not have been as intense… more covert, if you’re in another place…
South Africa was bombarded for Apartheid, but they learned it from the United States. The name has changed, they called it Jim Crow. It was a Jim Crow society, in which I could not, being a person of colour, being of African descent, there were places that I could not go, and it was unlawful for me to go. It was systemic, not just racism that was involved, systemic discrimination, and it was generated by the system. It was a system of apartheid, I don’t care if they call it Jim Crow, Jan Crow, or Uncle Crow, it was a system in which South Africa some years later inherited and perpetuated.
So coming up in that environment, I understood that there were places that were designated for me being the person that I was, people were carving out an existence for me, how I was supposed to survive. I had a “place” in society being a person of colour, they gave me a “place”. I was to remain in that place. But it so happened that I broke out of that circle… At an early age I began to see the discrimination and the racism, and the discrepancy that existed among the races, I couldn’t articulate or define it at the time, I thought that this was the state of affairs and it was normal. So I think that was a major breakthrough, when I saw how abnormal it was, that it really wasn’t normal, I think at an early age I began to circumvent that, get out of all the things that give it rationale, I began to see it as being a deception, and I began to focus my own brainpower on what was going on…
I saw the contradictions, because I did go to school for a while, eight years of it, they wanted you to pledge allegiance to the flag, they told me it was a Christian nation and God was a forgiving individual, and yet you saw all the hypocrisy that existed within a system that encourages you to become a Christian… I think the system itself needed a rebirth. And fortunately that happened…. when I say a rebirth, I mean the beginning of a rebirth, it hasn’t happened yet… but it happened when people began to see that there was a discrepancy, and I think that people started to fight for their civil rights, something that they should not even had to come into play at that time, back in 1954 when Martin Luther King came onto the set, that’s something we should have taken for granted.
People of colour, even though the laws allegedly applied to us, we did not reap the benefits of those laws, such as voting, or living where we wanted to live, or getting the type of job or employment that was commensurate with a decent economic lifestyle, that didn’t allow you to struggle, to constantly struggle. But the civil rights, it took time to achieve this and we’re still struggling to achieve this… these things are still prevalent, in American society, in spite of what people on the outside of American society may believe.
In saying this, I hope it’s never taken out of context, I say this, that for some people, America is heaven. Because the system was geared around certain people, it was established around certain people… but the decency of the system did not reach people of colour. People who were considered “white”, they had privilege automatically; they came into the world privileged through skin colour. And so like I said, that was a thing that whites took for granted, and people who were white took for granted. And speaking about this I point out that America was heaven for some people, some people consider it heaven, some people thought it was very workable, that there was nothing wrong with the system, that it wasn’t broken. And for them the system wasn’t broken, so it’s cool, America was heaven for them. But other people knew, in heaven there were some people catching hell, people of colour, and other people. Poor people, not just black people but poor white people also, with the exception that many of them did not realize they were being, that if racism could not be perpetuated against them, you could bet one thing, that systemically, economically, they were living in economic desperation just as much as other people were, but they were content to believe that being white, that they had privilege. Of course, during chattel, it was the same thing, you only had a few hundred people who owned slaves, and the other 12 or so million people were living mostly in poverty, but people accepted that…
I was around during the civil rights era, I saw what Martin Luther King and all these others folks did, including one of the last organisations that really defined things for me, which was the Black Panther Party. Of course a lot people demonized the Party, and the principles, but they didn’t know anything about the Party, about its philosophy. And the Ten Point Platform was equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, and it was something that was doable, it should have been applied. And the Black Panther Party (BPP), the members of BPP and the leaders of the BPP, wanted to make sure that these rules that everybody else took for granted, that they would be applied to people of colour as well.
And so it was not extraordinary that I embraced the philosophy that said, we want freedom, we want the power to determine our own destiny, because our destiny had been determined by other people for so many years, so many generations, we want an end to police brutality against people of colour in the community. Even when black people went to court, we wanted a jury of our peers, because the Constitution required that you have a jury of your peers, but a black person during the Civil Rights era probably never had a jury of their peers, if they were unfortunate enough having to face a trial, because [jurors] were mostly whites, and a white jury could never be a jury of their peers, even if they were poor, because they took privilege in skin colour, so they could never be actually peers. The only time you’re peers is when you’re seeing someone as your equal. So it was easy for me to embrace the principle that the quest was to make sure that, if there was food here, there was food here, to have the same rights regardless of who you were, you had that same right…
In spite of that, the idealism that the Black Panther Party brought to our situation, in spite of that the system still failed, and it’s failing now. As of now, over 2 million people actively in prison. America has more of its citizens in prison than anywhere in the world… There is also data that points out that perhaps there are more than 7 million people who if not directly in prison, by proxy they are, because they’re under some rule of regulation, parole, probation, some type of supervision, as a result of coming into contact with the system. So that’s still standing. And people who go into prison in America rarely get out, the prison I eventually went to, it was Angola State Prison, I ended up with a 35 year sentence, and then a life sentence, and when you have life in Angola, you have life without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, unless a intervening appellate court intervened on your behalf. And there were rules and regulations that prevented you from even applying for clemency, people who were given life sentences in Louisiana, they can’t apply for clemency…
So there’s no remedy, for people who are given a life sentence in Louisiana or America proper, they do a life sentence, and if you don’t have a life sentence, in Angola, it being the biggest maximum security prison in a nation, when you’re sent to Angola, you’re sent to die, whether you got a natural life sentence or whether you got numbers. Because very few people in Angola have a sentence of, say, 20 years, or less than 20 years. A person who might go to Angola with 20 years, they may be fortunate, they might get out of prison… There are some people, young people who go to Angola, 17 years old, and have 250 or 400 years, and some of them, there is no good time on that amount of time, you can’t do the sentence, a person can’t do life, they can do death in prison. Whether you got a natural life sentence, or whether you got an incremental life sentence… if you come to Angola, you die in Angola, that’s basic. And that is the course of almost all of the prisons within the States, and as I said the prisons within the States house more than 2 million people.
AS: Solitary confinement played a really particular role in the way the Black Panthers were treated [in prison], and similarly today for Muslim prisoners, you can look at Communication Management Units or treatment inside Florence ADX. What do you think the purpose of solitary confinement is, the purpose from the perspective of the prisons?
RK: I think the prison administration sees solitary confinement, initially, it was a place where… the Quakers began solitary confinement. The Quakers who found that, that if people were placed in solitary confinement, within 6 months if they were really isolated, and there was no contact, less contact, within 6 months an individual would have reconsidered their lifestyle. They would actually become self-reformed, self-rehabilitated, and I think to a degree, they were correct… but I read reports, when they initially started putting people in solitary confinement, many of them hung themselves, they went crazy, they never were the same after they got out, and that was only 6 months. But what America did was take it to another level… they revised what solitary confinement really meant. They would put you in a cell. Initially it was done for rule violations, they would place you in solitary confinement for a period of time, but you had an opportunity to get out.
Like I said, America took it to another level. In the 1970s, they began blowing up the prison system, prisoners in solitary confinement, enacting rules that allowed them, that gave them the power to keep you in solitary confinement, and solitary confinement is defined not by a prison warden, but by the courts in America. Its defined by being in a cell 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the lack of normal exercise, and that in itself, if that goes on and on and on, the court has never ruled in America that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual [punishment]. And we do have a case in which I am a part of, in which the court has ruled that my stay, which was 29 years in solitary confinement, that, because of the length of time in which I was there, it constituted cruel and unusual punishment [see Robert King Wilkerson, et al v. Richard Stalder, et al]. And that case is pending, in the federal court, it may go to the Supreme Court, and if it does… if the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit rules, whenever they rule, it will be applicable to everyone else…
But you know, the Black Panthers, they weren’t the only people placed in solitary confinement. America found a way to put people in solitary confinement and keep them for no reason… years later they extended [it], like I said it began in the ‘70s, but in the 80s, in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s, they began putting Black youngsters going to prison, if they thought you were a gang member, that was a reason to put you in solitary confinement and keep you there. There is a movement, as well, just like there’s a movement around the world, there’s a movement in America as well against solitary confinement. As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago there was a Congressional hearing… [Solitary confinement] is being scrutinized, it is being done because people around the world, are focusing on this issue, because it’s a major issue, it’s a violation of human rights. Any person, if they want to show any type of decency they have to consider what is going on in the gulags they call prison, especially in America.
AS: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but right now there’s a case at the European Court of Human Rights, where several men are facing extradition to the States for War on Terror charges. They tried to stop their extradition by bringing it to the ECHR, and arguing that if they had lifetime sentences at Florence, it would constitute the equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment under the European Convention of Human Rights. But they lost their case [see Babar Ahmad and Others v. the United Kingdom]. If you could speak to the panel of judges at the European Court of Human Rights about their ruling, what would you say?
RK: Laws and regulations and rules that are made…. they are not infallible. People shouldn’t give them [laws] a godlike status… Legality runs the world. People’s lives and systems and government are based on the operation of laws. And many of these laws are very, very conflicting. These laws are seen as being omnipotent. I think they lose something. During slavery, it was legal to own slaves in America… What I’m trying to get to is people need to approach it differently. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s morally right. It doesn’t mean they have to give up the fight to give up this legality. If that had happened during chattel, slavery never would have been eliminated. It was people perpetuating the concept that this was inhuman, people coming together, and as a result, people began to see that slavery, as it was then, was something that was reprehensible. That needed to be overturned…
The world exists on legal precepts, and because of what happened with this case, people still need to challenge it. [People] need to see it as equivalent or tantamount to slavery… that [that] was reprehensible… Just 1/16 of just Black blood and you would have been considered a slave for life, and this was part of the Constitution. My point is, people got that changed. The Constitution was changed. And just because the European Court may have ruled a certain way, doesn’t mean that people have to stop fighting to overturn this.
It can be done, and it may not happen in this individual lifetime, hopefully it will, but you set the things in motion that can eliminate this happening in the future.
I say this, the European Court which has made that final decision. I wouldn’t call that the final decision. The final decision is left up to people… In the States, we allegedly live in a system of democracy, and it is representative democracy, but people’s democracy does not abound, not in the States. You have politicians’ democracy, you have people who are in high places who run the system, they are the people who are the benefactors of democracy. The majority of the system is not. And I think people in the United States have begun to recognize this, people around the world have begun to recognize this, what democracy means. Democracy doesn’t mean politicians’ powers, democracy means people powers. It’s a Greek word: Demos –means of the people – powers… It has been bastardized in America and around the world. The concept of democracy, with regards to people has been bastardized and minimized to serve a very few, and the very few are the politicians and judges and what not…. but they are not the majority of the people. The people who are the victim of this, the people who have to live in a system that operates like this, they can change it.
AS: Do you consider yourself a prison abolitionist?
RK: I consider myself favouring prison abolition. My quest at this time, though, is to focus on how it operates. And in doing this, I think it will have some impact on the abolition of prison. I think collectively, if people continue to focus on atrocities that occur as a result of prison, because if we don’t put it out there, if people don’t put their dissent, the system goes on, the beat goes on. What I’m doing, what other people are doing, all of this will have an impact on the abolition of prison. But I think that the system itself is not going to abolish itself, just like slavery didn’t abolish itself. People abolished these institutions… People make them, and collectively, people can break them.
AS: When I listen to you describe what it was like to be in solitary, it’s impossible for me to imagine how someone could see it as not being torture. I’m wondering, what do you think it is that makes it so impossible for people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes? Do you think its racism?
RK: A lot of time, people’s concepts about something, it may seem appalling, but if this is constantly done, incrementally, people are constantly seeing it, they become desensitized. They can accept what’s going on because they have been desensitized, that this is legitimate. In order to first put a person in prison, and to keep a person in prison, they first have to come up with ways of convincing people that prisons are necessary, that “we’re doing this for your safety” and that “if we don’t do it, this is what’s going to happen to you”, which is pretty wild. There should be law and order… there have to be laws governing people’s actions and so forth… But the way that the system perpetuates lies about needing to put people away for life, put fear in the hearts and the minds, that if we did not do this, this is what would occur…
I could give you a better example too. In order for many people around the world and whites to accept the institution of slavery, you know what they had to do first? They had to demonize and convince people that the people who were enslaved, were worthy of enslavement. That they were simple, that they needed to be enslaved, that God had given certain folks the right to enslave people, and people were convinced, that if you did not look like “the master race”, then by right, by God’s decree, and by the law of the land, you were a slave. So people lived for a couple of hundred years, it wasn’t until people said, hold up, something is wrong with this, this is reprehensible. It was then that people began to say, well you know, there is some truth. People had probably believed that the master race should enslave people started to think, there’s something is wrong with this.
So, I think the same thing has to take place with prisons, again today. And I’ve always said this, if you’re in prison, in Louisiana or in anywhere else in the prison or the United States, or anywhere in the world, in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, they know you didn’t commit, they put you in solitary confinement… if you got a life sentence for a crime you didn’t commit, you will never get out of prison, what can be more terrorizing than this? You’re in a cell 23 hours a day, a 6x9x12 cell, so terror has always been a part of imprisonment. I have always seen it as terror. So I can see how people around the world can say that being in prison, what’s going on in prison, is tantamount to terrorism. And it is. And it’s nothing new. It didn’t start with Guantanamo Bay, not to minimize, the same people who ran Guantanamo Bay, they started in America. It began there, and it expanded out. And that’s why it’s so important that people in America people around the world, need to get on board with what’s going on, and people around the world…
To the question, of course. I was in prison and I definitely saw it as being a form of terror. Some people say justice delayed is justice denied, I agree with that 100%. But I go further than that, say not only is justice delayed is justice denied, but justice delayed is terrorism.
AS: Something you mentioned is the way that Guantanamo [Bay] actually drew on practices that had been happening in American prisons or in slavery for centuries. If you look at the way that Black men have been depicted in the US for centuries, and I think now increasingly if you look at the way that Muslim men are thought about or depicted, there are so many parallels. Muslim men are this new site of racial fear and terror. Do you think enough is being done to build bridges between Muslim communities and African American communities who are doing work around prison or solitary confinement, or even issues like jury discrimination?
RK: I believe people who are effectively struggling, I don’t care where you are or what persuasion or religion you are, I think people who are collectively working together, they will work somewhere the middle… The parallels are so great… People around the world are coming together for the same cause. I think we will at some point meet in the middle. It probably won’t happen right away, not that it shouldn’t, it’s long overdue. But I wouldn’t write it off… This is what we’re doing. We’re paving the way… We have to be consistent and persistent. If we see prison as being terror, if we want to eliminate these types of human rights violations, I think people who are interested in justice, I think they need to come together… And I do believe that this is happening.
AS: You talked about the Black Panthers being falsely portrayed, and I think a lot of that was around the role of self defence, and the way the Black Panthers talked about self defence. And I think today, the way that jihad is talked about or self defence in the context of jihad, there are so many parallels. What do you think the role of violence or resistance is in movements for social justice – violence of course, in however you want to define it?
RK: I believe that violence begets violence. We live in a violent system, that is perpetuated by violence, and at some point it will beget violence. So whether I agree with it or not, the grounds are laid for it… It’s a matter of survival, people have the instinct to survive, and if it takes violence to survive, people will do that. The system you’re trying to eliminate, they will, without any qualms, come at you violently. So I am saying this, that violence begets violence… justified violence, whatever you want to call it, sometimes violence is justified.
But I do believe this, that collectively, people can come together and eliminate a system. People operate on certain levels, some people throw small pebbles in the pond, some people throw bigger pebbles in the pond, some people throw even larger pebbles in the pond. If people all focus on one main issue, I think it will have an impact. The system itself doesn’t have a monopoly on initiating violence. The system [is violent] but [it] doesn’t control [violence]. What controls people’s emotions and so forth, is their desire to do better in life. And whatever it takes to do better, people will do this. Some will do one thing, some will through a little pebble in the pond, some will through a big pebble in the pond, and some might throw a rock in the pond. I’m saying, though, collectively this will have an impact. I really wish that, all people could throw a rock in the pond.
But when I say a rock in the pond, I do believe this, that all the pebbles are working together. And I don’t have a problem with people throwing rocks in the pond, and if that implies violence, so be it. These are things that occur. Whether I like it or not, this is a result of [systemic violence], people will not tolerate indecency and dehumanizing conditions. Whatever it takes… It happens and there’s nothing that I can do or anyone else can do… people sometimes come together and eliminate things through means other than violence, that could happen. But I do believe this, that of course, in the process of trying to change and eliminate things, there will be violence, people will die, there will be collateral damages, and so forth, and something the system can’t stop and I can’t stop. It follows suit, these are things that happen, they occur, and it’s not that I advocate it – and I don’t advocate it. I am just simply saying that this is what takes place, whether I like it, whether the system likes it, or whether anybody else likes it, this is what happens.
People will react, and some react in different manners and in different ways. Nobody has a monopoly, of course… There are some people willing to make sacrifices. Other people, they make sacrifices, but everyone doesn’t make sacrifices in the same way… There are people of all walks of life, people who really love to see justice rendered worldwide, they approach it differently, and I don’t have a problem with whatever because I think all forms of struggle are relevant.
AS: When you first got involved with the Black Panthers, and even today, Islam has always played a role in African American identity, especially during the time of the civil rights movement. What are your thoughts on the role of Islam in the Civil Rights movement and today, in African American communities?
RK: In the States, there was a group of Black men who followed Elijah Mohammad, they became Muslim and of course the system denigrated them, considered them being just a sect, not truly Muslim, whatever that might mean… To those people, to me they were true, regardless of what the system said, what they adopted. Malcolm X came up through them, he did great work, he was able to focus on it as a Muslim, as his background, as his stage. This is where he became well known, as you know, through Islam, what they call “Black Muslims”.
And he went to visit Mecca, he was embraced by brothers of all colours, people with the bluest eyes, he began to call them brothers. It was to totally different. Islam has had an impact, a great impact, on Blacks in America, and people generally. Even though Elijah Mohammed started, Malcolm X popularized Islam inside the US, it exists still to this today, they’re still struggling…
[Muslims] aren’t the single mechanism through which human rights can be achieved. People may have felt that at that time, but the consolidation of all those forces together would be better… This is why I use the term spiritual. We are all connected spiritually, regardless of what we believe in, whatever religion it is, and that spiritually has to connect. To me, that is more important, and I don’t mean to denigrate [Islam], but to me that spirituality and that connection is much more important, for people coming together and consolidating their efforts, than a religion… Spirituality that exists in people, that connective spirit, that desire to make sure that people are treated humanely, regardless of where they are in the world, regardless of their station in life, I think this is the quest.
AS: How did your time in solitary confinement impact or shape your spirituality?
RK: I think it did because I had a lot of time to reflect, ruminate, I should like to think. I had time to think, I had learned some things, I had read some things, because I only had an eight grade education but I learned some things along the way, in the process of becoming involved with the Black Panther Party… I became interested in some things. Don’t get me wrong – I had read the Bible, “the Holy Bible”, I had read that at least 3 or 4 times, through the whole six books. I was raised in a religious family and I considered myself at one time a Christian.
And I’m glad that I went through that, I think it was an evolving door for me to go further. Because I don’t see religion and spirituality as being quite the same, I’m sorry, but many people do think that they’re synonymous, but I really don’t think they are synonymous with each other, because religion does not generally mean that you’re spiritually connected with a force, and it doesn’t mean something metaphysical, I’m talking about that force that binds people together, that decency that exists in people together that allows them to communicate, that allows them to be decent to each other, and this is the type of spirituality that I speak of.
That spirituality that brings people together and that they can really see that, what impacts one individual, also impacts himself or herself as well, and others. We have to see it that way, because it does, whatever happens in America, it impacts this place, what happens here impacts America. So I think people need to become spiritually tuned to what is taking place. And this is, you don’t have to be of any persuasion or any ideology in order to see this, all you have to do is be human.
AS: After spending so much time in solitary, when you still have moments, that spark of still appreciating being out, what are some of the things that you appreciate the most?
RK: I appreciate the fact that being out, that I could shed some light. Those 31 years that I was in prison. You know when I left prison I said that, even though I was free of Angola, Angola would never be free of me. And I think that time has been going on, it’s been 11 years going on, or 12. I’ve been in quite a few places, and it has been my quest to shed light on human rights violations, not just in America, but, subsequently around the world. I see that there’s a connecting force that binds evil, but there’s also a connecting force that binds people of the opposite of what evil might entail. And I think that I opt for that. I had an opportunity to do a lot of thinking when I was in prison. And I think I made an assessment of what the system actually was and what it is. And I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had other people who quite obviously feel the same way I feel, because they’re doing things, and we have never met, but our approach, and the things we’re doing, are basically having the same effect, we’re focusing our energy on eliminating an ill that can impact everybody, and all of us.
You know, being in solitary confinement, that time, while I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement and what it can do to people. It is dehumanizing, it is demoralizing, it kills the soul, the soul cries. There’s no doubt about it. And I don’t want to minimize the impact of solitary confinement, but I think I used my stay in solitary confinement, it allowed me – and again, I don’t want to minimize solitary confinement, because I agonized each day. But there was never a day in solitary confinement that I didn’t think about trying to get out of solitary confinement, and trying to make things better while I was there. Not that I was trying to make things better, that I could forever exist in that type of environment, I was trying to make things more conducive, for me to be able to affect some changes. While I was in solitary confinement, I wasn’t just laying dormant. There were some things that needed to be changed. They did not allow us to have law books, we utilized the courts, we utilized what was given to us, what the US Constitution said we could have, we didn’t know this, we had no law practice, but you learned through rote. And we learned this, and we kind of improved it, but the main quest has always been for me, and for Herman and Albert, because we were victims of a frame-up. And the system knows this. Our quest has always been, to make things conducive, to where we lived it, where they kept us, in solitary confinement, so we can affect changes ourselves, and we used the courts, we utilized the courts, to make some changes. There were things that they did not allow us to do, and we understood that we had a constitutional right, regardless, that we had certain constitutional rights, that was our way of fighting back.
There are many methods of struggle, and we were so limited, and what we did, we utilized what was given to us, and we affected some changes, and subsequently, I was released. After filing my own writ, after 31 years, 29 years in solitary confinement of course, I was appointed a lawyer, and I released.
AS: I do other prison activism, letter writing and that sort of thing. And something I always spend a lot of time thinking about, it what is the best way for people on the outside to give support to people on the inside, but also make sure that the struggle is led by people on the inside. So I guess I’m wondering, as someone who spent a lot of time on the inside, but is now on the outside doing prison work, what you think about that. What kind of support meant the most to you when you were on the inside? How do you think about your work now?
RK: When we were on the inside, we did some things to affect some changes, we did some outreaching. And then a guy named Malik Rahim, a former member of the Black Panther Party, he recognized that… some 20 years later he saw something that we were still in prison. And what he did was got some former members of the BPP, got some former activists together. And they formed a support group. So my point is this – even though prisoners can impact or should be the main impact of how people operate, there are certain things they don’t have, outside, that people have access to outside, so they have to rely more on people outside. But by the same token, they have to set things in motion. And in setting things in motion, that is their control, in a sense. But for all practical reasons, Herman and Albert, even though they have all this support, and people support them, there’s people outside, Herman and Albert don’t really control [the movement]… While people who you’re working for can have all the input in the world with regards to how they should, how the situation they face should be dealt with, by the same token, I do believe this, that the people on the outside who have access and means and resources that they don’t have, they’re the people who they have to rely on. Herman and Albert, they don’t second guess what we do, because we know what we’re doing is in their interests…
Overall, it’s the people who are giving support to prisoners, it should be left up to them to not dictate, but to control the movement, because there’s no way in the world that people in Guantanamo can control the movement that you may be trying to affect, they can’t control it, they can have some input, and so that’s the way it is with Herman and Albert.
I think the people on the outside have to be the ones to continue, because they have the resources, they have to work with prisoners. And working together, a consolidated effort. It’s good, Herman and Albert are satisfied… And know this, they realize that and know this, that people on the outside, they do have their best interests at heart, because it’s a labour of love.
Click here to learn more about the Angola 3 and their struggle for justice
Please sign this petition to ask the Governor of Ohio to Grant Clemency for Nancy Smith.
From: The Wrongful Convictions Blog, by Mark Godsey (on the Wrongful Convictions Blog)
I’ve decided to post some materials from the Nancy Smith/Joseph Allen case (also known as the Head Start case) here for those who watch Dateline NBC or Anderson Cooper, and then get on the computer and do some google searches to learn more about the case.
Here is an important article on the case, The Shame of Lorain, that was published in 2005…
Here is the new pardon application that the Ohio Innocence Project and NYC law firm Davis Polk filed with Ohio Gov. Kasich this past Friday…
Here is the Fight for Nancy Smith facebook page
Here is the parole letter that the OIP filed for Nancy in 2007, outlining the reasons why she is innocent.
And here is a digital version of the art book, Illustrated Truth, with Nancy Smith’s story and her painting about freedom. You can purchase this beautiful and moving book for $30 by emailing Jodi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Flemish article basically says that two participants of the No-Border Camp held in Brussels in 2010 (in an action protesting the detention centre in Steenokkerzeel and in remembrance of Ms Semira Adamu who had died in that camp) received a 1 year and a 6 month prison sentence for “being there.”
The judge tried to sentence them for obstructing the police, but there was really no credible evidence of this, because video footage did not show decidedly that the two British participants really held weapons (all that can be seen on footage is that one of them is holding a drum and a drumstick!).
It is also not clear on the footage used as evidence that the two sentenced had caused an injury to a police who fell of his/her horse, because the suspects were not seen in that footage.
The judge admitted that they were not seen on the video footage, but the judge found them guilty anyway because they were participating at this demonstration anyway…
The lawyers of the No-Border-Camp participants are considering an appeal.
From: De Wereld Morgen:
woensdag 25 april 2012
door Kevin Van den Panhuyzen
6 maanden en 1 jaar cel voor deelnemers No Border-kamp 2010
BRUSSEL – Twee deelnemers aan het No Border-kamp van 2010 in Brussel werden dinsdag tot 6 maanden en 1 jaar cel met uitstel veroordeeld voor ‘weerspannigheid tegen de politie’. Alhoewel ze vreedzaam deelnamen aan een betoging voor het gesloten asielcentrum 127bis in Steenokkerzeel, blijkt hun toenmalige aanwezigheid voldoende te zijn voor een veroordeling.
[photo] Betoging in het kader van het No Border-kamp in september 2010 in de buurt van het gesloten asielcentrum 127bis in Steenokkerzeel.
In september 2010 vond in Brussel een No Border-kamp plaats. Activisten uit verschillende landen namen er deel aan allerlei acties tegen het Belgisch en Europees asielbeleid. Een eerste betoging voor het gesloten asielcentrum 127bis in Steenokkerzeel, om de praktijk van opsluiting aan te klagen en de dood van Semira Adamu te herdenken, liep uit de hand toen de politie te paard en in oproeruitrusting de betogers omcirkelde.
Elf betogers werden toen administratief aangehouden, onder wie twee Britse activisten die werden aangeklaagd voor weerspannigheid tegen de politie. Hun zaak werd dinsdag 24 april behandeld voor een Brusselse rechtbank.
De officiële argumentatie
De rechter oordeelde dat het geval van Darius (een van de twee veroordeelden) extra ernstig is, “omdat hij als universiteitsassistent aan een Britse universiteit het goede voorbeeld zou moeten geven en dus niet aanwezig zou mogen zijn op zulke evenementen”.
Omdat hij tijdens de betoging een drumstokje en een trommel vasthad, werd hij bovendien ook nog veroordeeld voor wapenbezit. “Op de videobeelden is inderdaad niet vast te stellen dat deze twee manifestanten gewelddadig waren of de politie met aarde bekogelden”, vertelde de rechter dinsdag op het proces, “maar ze waren in ieder geval wel aanwezig op die betoging.”
De twee activisten worden ook verantwoordelijk geacht voor de verwondingen van een agent die van zijn paard viel. “Op de videobeelden is nochtans te zien – en dat gaf de rechter ook toe – dat zij daar helemaal niet bij betrokken waren.”
Een gevaarlijk precedent
“Dit is gevaarlijk”, legt een sympathisante uit voor het justitiepaleis, “want zo is geen enkele verdediging meer mogelijk. Er is geen enkel bewijs van gewelddadig verzet. Enkel en alleen omdat zij deelnamen aan een betoging worden zij veroordeeld tot een celstraf. Zo is in de toekomst geen enkele betoging meer mogelijk.”
Mogelijk gaan de advocaten van de activisten in beroep tegen de uitspraak van de rechter, waarvoor nog 15 dagen tijd overblijft.