Race in America - legal imbalance
So I have recently discussed race in America, specifically the inequality of law enforcement and punishment (at Black Entertainment USA and here). Sean Bell, Wesley Snipes, Megan Williams, the Jena 6 and others are but a tip of the iceberg of failure in some aspect of the legal system. From the failure to prosecute, failure to convict, the rush to presume and proclaim guilt, and the retroactively excessive and (in my opinion) abusive sentencing there is nothing that is balanced about Justice in America.
Now add to that a case I have read about today. By the way, if you are African American and live in Texas, especially Dallas, don’t ever get arrested. Because there is a real chance you will get convicted and in the worst case you will be sentenced to death. Such is the case of James Lee Woodard.
James Lee Woodard is an innocent man, wrongly convicted of murder in 1981. It has taken 27 years and the efforts of the Innocence Project to provide him a DNA test proving his innocence. And if you wonder why he had to wait for them, it’s because the legal system willfully ignored him. Mr. Woodard filed 6 writs with appeals courts and 2 requests for the DNA tests (that would eventually free him). Instead of considering his pleas he was labeled a writ abuser and ignored.
Imagine that. You are innocent, and your request to be proven so is brushed off as annoying chatter.
There was a study by the Justice Department (A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995) that stated in 22 years there was no proof of a wrongly executed person. Yet 500 were executed in that time frame. Mr. Woodard was convicted in that timeframe. So if he was never given a DNA test, and executed the DOJ would have still claimed no error. Thus the question must be asked, how many have been denied a DNA test and executed wrongly?
Why is the DNA so important? Why is this such an abomination of justice? Because Mr. Woodard was convicted by 2 witnesses – of which one recanted their testimony in court documents and the other is stated as being completely unreliable (now). And Mr. Woodard is not alone.
In Texas 31 people have been found innocent by DNA testing. 18 were convicted in Dallas alone. Both of these are national highs. How many have not been heard because they have claimed their innocence too much? Because the ears of the Justice system close quickly. Especially when the fact is that Blacks, nationwide, are more likely to be convicted of a violent crime than any other racial group in the nation.
In a culture that is rife with cases where African American males are repeatedly targeted for senseless murders by law enforcement officers, and the legal system is prone to handing out the harshest penalties, can we afford to have closed ears? How often do we hear of Black men, convicted by eyewitnesses that are wrong or knowingly guessing and legal procedures that are unbalanced, being released after decades of incarceration?
What about cases like Genarlow Wilson, a young Black youth convicted to 10 years in a case that even the most jaded would call overly excessive. What about Wesley Snipes who was given the harshest possible sentence to make up for the fact the Government failed to get a conviction on felony charges – that a jury of his peers found him innocent of. What about a judge penalizing witnesses for the prosecution for their dress code and attitude by absolving the defendants of guilt without the benefit of a jury or the defendants testifying (the Sean Bell case).
Like politics today, where issues are abandoned in pursuit of the character of individuals not up for election, where is the justice?
America has issues. Many want to hide their heads in the sand or stick fingers in their ears rather than deal with the uncomfortable truth. America is as biased and racist as it was in 1950 or 1860. We just dress it up better.
So what can we do? What is possible for the public? Everything.
Write to your Congressional representative and Senator. Have your friends and family, your schools and classmates, your job and co-workers write. Post up blogs, and speak at community events. Be involved in your community and vocal at public discussions. Write a blog or make a website. Act.
Because if you are waiting for someone to act on your behalf you may wind up like the person in a joke I once heard:
“There is this guy in his house. He hears on TV that a flood is coming and he should evacuate. He prays to God to save him and goes about his day at home. The flood waters start to reach his house when a police officer drives up and tries to get him to leave with him. The man refuses saying – I’m a good man. I pray to God and have strong faith. God will save me.
The waters continue to rise and fill the 1st floor of his 2 story house. A man in a row boat comes up and begs the man to get in. He refuses again saying – I follow my faith. I love God, and pray often. I have faith, God will save me.
The floodwaters rise further and the man is forced to his roof. A helicopter comes by and pleads with the man to grab a ladder and fly off with them. Adamant the man stays shouting – I prayed to God and he will save me! I have faith!
The man dies from drowning in the flood. In heaven he sees God. He asks God why he didn’t save him.
God says, “You are a good man. You have strong faith and lived well. I heard your prayers. So I sent you a cop in a car, a guy in a rowboat, and a helicopter. What more did you want me to do?”