All Articles Tagged "justice system"
At what point does constructive criticism fail to be constructive?
What got me thinking about this was the recent dust up over a story, which happened earlier this month. See, what happened was, two weeks ago, Ebony Digital featured an article called, “Notorious to Glorious: Genarlow Wilson is No Child Molester and Never Was.”
The story, which was written by Chandra Thomas Whitfield, sought to highlight the current happenings of Genarlow Wilson, a man, who along with five other men were convicted of aggravated child molestation against a 17-year-old girl, and a 15-year-old girl. Wilson, who was 17 years old at the time, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime. However, he was released after serving nearly three years in a Georgia prison when a judge ruled that his sentence was ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. The online story highlighted what Wilson had been up to since his conviction; including being a college student a few credits short from graduating, and discussed how the label of sexual offender had negatively impacted his life.
The story itself was very sympathetic, showing how Wilson had been railroaded by an overzealous justice system, which seeks to give out the harshest punishment to folks with dark skin. However, there were a few problems with the story: For one, Whitfield had incorrectly wrote that Wilson’s conviction was overturned, when in fact, his conviction still stands, although his time in prison was reduced. It also said that the sexual contact between Wilson and the teenage girls was consensual, which is also not true considering that a teenager is legally incapable of consenting to sex. There were also issues with the title itself, particularly the inclusion of the word, “glorious” to describe a man convicted of sexual assault.
Of course, this didn’t sit well with some of the online magazine’s readers, including Gina McCauley, writer and founder of What About Our Daughters, a website dedicated to combating negative portrayals of African American women in the media, who would be one of the first to ring the alarm. After vowing that her “online tactical team” was on the case, McCauley and her supporters unleashed a full fledge campaign not only against Ebony magazine and its advertisers, but also the mostly woman-led editorial staff, who would come to be christened by McCauley as the Ebony 4. In one particular blog post called, “Ebony Magazine Editors Don’t “Condone Rape” – Except When They Do!,” McCauley writes, “If they were honorable and decent, they would present a different perspective from rape and sexual assault survivors, but this isn’t about the truth, this is about a group of Black women who work at Ebony.com needing to be fulfilled by playing Mommy to a FULLY. GROWN. BLACK MAN.. in order to feel important.”
However, McCauley’s sentiment seemed to resonate with many readers of both WOAD and Ebony. The pressure from WAOD resulted in severe backlash prompting Ebony to respond. As of today, the story is gone and so is an editorial response the magazine had release to explain its decision to run the piece. In a statement called Moving Forward Together, the editorial board said the following:
“Your response to our story has further illuminated for us the importance of engaging around issues of sexual violence, of supporting victims, and of empowering our community with relevant knowledge and resources. We deeply regret that the perception of the article about Wilson (published on EBONY.com on July 9, 2012) led some readers to believe that we are less than sensitive to the plight of young women in sexual assault cases.”
Last year,President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to institute a more rational approach to drug policy by scaling back the harsh mandatory sentences for federal crack cocaine offenses. The new law modifies the 25-year-old statute that has sent thousands of African Americans to prison for crack cocaine convictions while giving lesser sentences to whites arrested with the same amount of cocaine in powder form. Those convicted of possessing five grams of crack-cocaine under this new law could now expect an average two-year sentence reduction from the five years mandatory sentence. That is, of course, if you qualify.
As welcome as the reforms are, the new change will only benefit about new 3,000 cases a year and 12,000 people, who have already been convicted of drug offenses. Moreover, much of the law still leaves in place the broad structure of mandatory sentencing for most non-drug offenses, which sometimes accompany those arrested for drug offenses. Things like mandatory gun sentencing, three-strike laws and the ever-obscure school-zone drug laws all involve stiff penalties, which means that those prosecuted could receive an unfair and long sentencing for even the most minor of drug offenses.
Take for instance, the case of Reynolds Wintersmith, a Illinois resident whose first time drug arrest in 1994 at 17-years of age led him to a federal life sentence. It was a mandatory sentence that troubled even the judge, who questioned if lawmakers really intended this kind of outcome for someone so young. Although the Fair Sentencing Act applied to all defendants sentenced after that date, regardless of when the criminal conduct occurred, Wintersmith’s drug case did not qualify for sentencing reduction because of the way in which his case was prosecuted.
Although Wintersmith was a street dealer, his case was bundled into a larger drug conspiracy case involving the entire network of the Gangster Disciples. The bundling meant that Wintersmith was among several others to be held accountable for being a leader in the gang, using weapons to protect its drug trade and pushing large quantities of cocaine and crack on the street. It all added up to mandatory life, a sentence in which the original judge had no wiggle room to exercise leniency and in which the appellate courts no cause to hear his case.
Courts are using this gray area of the law to get around the new required sentencing guidelines. Take for instance the case of Felix Booker, who was nabbed earlier this year in Tennessee with 10.2 grams of crack cocaine hidden inside of him. Although an original search of Booker at the time of his arrest, yielded only a small quantity of marijuana, authorities, on suspicion that Booker was hiding drugs in unseen places, used a life-threatening medical procedure, which caused temporary paralysis, to physically extract the drugs out of his body. Questions about violation of his 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures aside, the federal court still sentenced Booker to a mandatory prison term for five years because he was convicted before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed but not yet sentenced.
There are currently two others bill before Congress, which seek to clarify the original Fair Sentencing Act including the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2011, which, if it passes, would make the new guidelines for mandatory minimums, another exemption from the original law, retroactive. There is also the bipartisan supported Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2011, which seeks to totally eliminate the disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences (The Fair Sentencing Act only reduced the disparity down from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1). However, both of these bills have languished in Congress and the second bill is not even retroactive, which means that we might see another bill just to correct the inequalities in this clarifying bill. And so goes Congress. If anything, this patchwork effort to correct drug sentencing laws further seek to illustrate just how decriminalization of drugs, in any regards, will never be a full substitution for legalization.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(AJC) — Troy Anthony Davis is willing to take a polygraph test before he is scheduled to be executed Wednesday night to show he is not a cop killer, his lawyer said late Tuesday evening. ”Mr. Davis believes he is innocent and he wants to show it,” Stephen Marsh, one of Davis’ lawyers, said. “We hope he’ll be allowed this opportunity.” Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, sits on death row for the 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied him clemency early Tuesday. He is set to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m.
(AP) — Supporters of Troy Davis made a last-ditch effort Monday to stop his execution for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, asking the Georgia pardons board to grant him clemency. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the power to change death sentences but rarely does, did not issue an immediate decision. A spokesman for the panel said they would not decide before Tuesday. Defense attorneys and the victim’s family both said they were cautiously optimistic the five-member panel would side with them.
(AP) — More than half of all people sent to federal prison for committing felony crimes so far this year were Hispanic, a major demographic shift swollen by immigration offenses, according to a new government report released Tuesday. Hispanics already outnumber all other ethnic groups sentenced to serve time in prison for federal felonies. Hispanics reached a new milestone for the first time this year, making up the majority all federal felony offenders sentenced in the first nine months of fiscal year 2011, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
(Los Angeles Times) — About 12,000 federal prisoners nationwide may soon be going home, some as much as three years early, under a U.S. Sentencing Commission decision to allow retroactive reductions in prison terms for inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses. The commission voted unanimously Thursday to bring “unfairly long sentences” for crack offenders, mostly African Americans, more in line with the shorter terms given to powder cocaine offenders, often white and sometimes affluent. Patti B. Saris, the panel’s chairwoman, said that when Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act last year, it “recognized the fundamental unfairness of federal cocaine sentencing policy,” and the commission sought to bridge the disparity between the two prison sentences.
(New York Times) — Camille Carter was surprised when Judge Leslie Purificacion looked down from the bench in small-claims court in Queens and said it would be October before the court might have time to get to her year-old case over her $1,136 damaged fender. “Look at the bright side, it’s Oct. 27 in this year,” Judge Purificacion said, with a gallows-humor grin. The New York State courts have taken a $170 million budget cut, and the small-claims courts in New York Cityare taking an especially big hit, with many night sessions eliminated, growing lines and increasing delays. But life does not stop, so the modest dramas of the small-claims courts are piling up: neighbor disputes, battles over bedbugs, and grudge matches that spill out into the hallways. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be coming here,” Ms. Carter said, before she gets her day in court — or in this case, night in court. Visiting the night small-claims court on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica offers a catalog of the irritations of city life, writ small. A livery-car driver was irate. Two former friends seemed about to spit. And Tashmina Muslima was dejected when her case against her former landlord was postponed until November, the next time an official Bengali interpreter would be available.
(AJC) — For every person sitting in a Fulton County jury box, there’s another person who didn’t show up for duty, and it’s costing taxpayers thousands of dollars per month. Almost 50 percent of jurors expected to show up for Superior Court not only don’t appear, they don’t even call and give a reason, according to Jury Manager Joyce Averils. It could be some of them moved and didn’t receive their letter, or it could be they don’t want to serve because of work or child care issues, she said. It could also be that, with the rules of civic duty being sporadically enforced, some Fulton residents have come to view the sheets marked “Jury Summons” less as mandates and more as suggestions. The judges have had enough of it. During the next few days, the Fulton County Superior Court will mail 20,000 letters warning would-be jurors that if they don’t call in and explain or reschedule, they’ll be charged with contempt of court.
(The Root) –Reforming the nation’s criminal-justice system is one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time. One shocking fact illustrates why: More African-American men are entangled in the criminal-justice system today than were enslaved in 1850. How did we get here? The rise in America’s penchant for punishment can be traced as far back as the 1964 presidential campaigns of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, each of whom made law and order a defining plank of his platform.
President Richard Nixon continued the trend, framing Democrats as “soft on crime” and pushing for tough law-enforcement policies in opposition to President Johnson’s credo of tackling crime through a “war on poverty.” “Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for [Hubert] Humphrey’s war on poverty,” Nixon told voters. Since then, Republicans have pushed — and Democrats have embraced — a so-called tough-on-crime approach to keeping us safe, one that emphasizes harsh measures after crimes have already occurred and that disproportionately punishes poor and minority communities rather than addressing the root causes of crime and preventing it in the first place.
(Investment News) — U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman dismissed a bias lawsuit brought by African-American financial advisers challenging a broker retention bonus program at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The suit claimed that the brokers were victims of systematic discrimination at the former Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and, as a result, received smaller retention bonuses from Bank of America when it acquired the struggling investment bank in early 2009. The case — George McReynolds, et al., v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc., Bank of America Corp. — is the second filed on behalf of 16 brokers at Merrill who claim that the firm steered more-lucrative accounts to white brokers. As a result, the African-American reps managed less money, produced less revenue for the firm and thereby received smaller bonuses.