Category Archives: advocate

The Mississippi Man Tried Six Times for the Same Crime

Heartbreaking outrageous stories of injustice like this keep me taking action, especially for Americans with African ancestry. It’s ironic that America prides itself on our justice system when so many African-Americans do not get fair treatment. 

By David Leonhardt, Opinion Columnist, The New York Times, May 20, 2018

One morning nearly 22 years ago, four employees of a furniture store in a small Mississippi town were shot to death. For months afterward, local law-enforcement seemed stumped by the crime. Eventually, the top prosecutor — Doug Evans — charged a former store employee, Curtis Flowers, a black man who had no criminal record.

The case since then has been unlike any other I’ve ever heard of. Evans has put Flowers on trial six separate times — even though no gun, fingerprints or other physical evidence ties Flowers to the crime and no witness even puts him at the store that day.

At each of the first three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out all three convictions. The first two times, it cited misconduct by Evans during the trial, and the third time it found that Evans had kept African-Americans off the jury. The justices called it as bad a case of such racial discrimination “as we have ever seen.”

The fourth trial was the first to have more than one black juror, and it ended with a hung jury. The fifth also had multiple black jurors and likewise ended in a mistrial. The sixth trial had only one black juror, and Flowers was convicted, thanks largely to dubious circumstantial testimony that Evans had coached witnesses to give. I see no good reason to believe that Curtis Flowers is guilty.

Yet today he sits in solitary confinement, on death row, in Mississippi’s Parchman Prison. He is serving his 22nd straight year behind bars, having never been released between convictions. He will turn 48 years old next week. His parents continue to visit him as often as possible.

His heartbreaking, enraging story is the subject of a new podcast — the second season of “In the Dark,” led by Madeleine Baran of American Public Media — that’s already been downloaded more than two million times. The reporting and storytelling are fantastic, and I can’t capture all of it here. If you aren’t already listening to the podcast, I recommend it.

While the Flowers case is shocking in its details, it is all too typical in its broad strokes: The United States suffers from a crisis of unjust imprisonment. The crisis has been caused partly by powerful, unaccountable prosecutors, like Doug Evans. And the costs are borne overwhelmingly by black men, like Flowers.

We now know that dozens of innocent people have been executed in recent decades. Many others languish behind bars. My colleague Nicholas Kristof, in his latest column, told the story of Kevin Cooper, who’s on death row in California because of highly questionable evidence. Cases like these are the most extreme part of our mass-incarceration problem. As the legal scholar Michelle Alexander has noted, a larger share of black Americans are imprisoned than black South Africans were during apartheid. “A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch,” she has written.

When Americans today look back on the past, many of us wonder how our ancestors could have tolerated blatant injustices — like child labor, Jim Crow or male-only voting — for so long. When future generations look back on our era, I expect they will ask a similar question. They will be outraged that we forcibly confineda couple million of our fellow human beings to cages, often for no good reason.

President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are trying to make the problem even worse, by locking up ever more people. But Trump and Sessions can’t squelch the burgeoning, bipartisan movement for criminal-justice reform. They can’t, because as the recent Pulitzer-winning author James Forman Jr. points out, criminal justice happens mostly at the local and state levels. “We should always remember that the fight is going to be at the local level,” Forman told NPR’s Terry Gross, “and, there, we continue to win.”

To take one example, manufactured jailhouse confessions are a common part of wrongful prosecutions (and are central to the Flowers case). With a shocking frequency, prosecutors and police coax so-called snitches to lie outright about what other prisoners say. In response, Texas enacted a law last year requiring the tracking of snitches and the disclosure of any plea deals to defense attorneys, who can then call the testimony into question in front of a jury. Rebecca Brown of the Innocence Project told me that the Texas law was “excellent” — and that the Illinois legislature had passed an even better version, awaiting the governor’s signature.

Elsewhere, some district attorneys are trying to make the system fairer on their own. It’s happening in Brooklyn, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities. Most prosecutors, after all, are decent, ethical public servants. One change involves “open-file” policies, which give the defense attorney access to all of the evidence in a case. That may seem like an obvious step, and it’s the norm in civil trials. Yet it remains rare in criminal trials.

I don’t want to exaggerate the recent progress. As you read this column, thousands upon thousands of American citizens sit behind bars, unjustly denied their freedom. “Ooooh, I miss Curtis,” his devastated father, Archie Flowers, says on the podcast. “Yes. It is rough. Rough, rough, rough, rough.”

But the Flowers family refuses to give up hoping for justice. Curtis Flowers’s sixth conviction is still being appealed, and new evidence — uncovered by the podcast — seems likely to help that appeal.

If the Flowers family won’t give in to despair, nobody else should, either.

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June 5 & 19 Judiciary Hearings Set

Activists are preparing to fill the hearing rooms at the Statehouse when the Judiciary Committee – where most bills for justice/corrections reform are heard, reviews juvenile justice, CORI reform and more.

We recommend using public transit or taking the bus from Worcester on June 5 and June 19 hearing. See below for info.

1. Monday June 5 at 1:00 in Room A 1
Hearing covers
  a. Justice Reinvestment Act, CORI reform, Ending punitive Fines and Fees, Raising the Felony Theft Threshold,Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentences on Drug Convictions etc.
  b. Juvenile Justice bills on the Expungement of Juvenile Misdemeanors and Raising the age of those covered under the Juvenile Justice system.
2. Monday June 19 at 1:00 probably in Room A 1 AND Proceeded by 12:00 Rally at place to be determined at the State House
Covers Repeal of long Mandatory Minimum sentences on drug convictions
Covers the Governor’s CSG bill with the limited reforms it calls for
Covers bills on Solitary

STAND IN SOLIDARITY TO SUPPORT CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM WITH EPOCA ON JUNE 5TH.  BUSES LEAVING FROM 4 KING ST.WORCESTER,MA.

Send holiday REFORM greetings

EMIT doesn’t ask for money [we are all-volunteer] during the holidays. Instead, all year round, we ask for a thin slice of your time to add to the chorus in the wave of justice & corrections systems reform in Massachusetts.
With the CSG report due out imminently, take a minute to contact Gov. Charlie Baker and/or Speaker Robert DeLeo and encourage them to adopt  justice reinvestment — which means investing in jobs, education, job training and support for small business startups in urban communities hardest hit by mass incarceration.
The theory is to roll over money saved by fewer people behind bars and use it productively to start a new life for formerly incarcerated people.
See more info here in this Globe story from yesterday on the outdated state of our justice and corrections systems.  Here’s Speaker DeLeo’s and Gov. Baker’s contact info. My sample email follows- feel free to copy and paste and edit in your correspondence.
Dear Speaker DeLeo:
During this time of hope and celebration, I urge you to think of the 10,000 people in free public housing in our state’s prisons and jails. 
We are not the worst offender in the Union for lack of justice, however, there are MANY more reforms possible than covered by the CSG. I urge you to go further and rollover the money saved by incarcerating fewer people, getting rid of the bail system that favors the rich and guilty, and reinvesting it in urban communities hardest hit by incarceration. Please do everything in your power to adopt justice re-investment in the coming legislative session.
THANKS AND Happy Holidays from the EMIT team.

CSG 2017 omnibus bill needs backbone

You may have heard about the Council of State Governments [CSG] recommendations to come on justice/corrections systems in Massachusetts to be proposed when the new 18-month legislative session opens in January on Beacon Hill.
Join a statewide EMIT call on Monday, Dec 12, 7-8 pm to learn more about this critical legislation.  EMIT leaders Laura Wagner and Dirck Stryker will lead the discussion. Your questions and comments are welcome.
Call in: (712) 432-1212  Meeting ID – 351-484-548#
 
Here’s more information on the Monday call and Tuesday rally downtown led by EMIT’s partners, the Jobs not Jails coalition.
 
The Governor, Speaker, Senate President, and Chief Justice will JOINTLY file a bill in mid-January on criminal justice reform.   It will include some of the recommendations of a CSG report on the criminal justice system in Massachusetts to be released when their bill is filed.

  a.  The Good News–This elevates criminal justice reform to being a “must pass” a bill situation given the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker and Chief Justice are behind it.

  b.  THE CHALLENGE: The bill they file will likely NOT strong enough and focus on probation, parole, and recidivism. It will likely ignore the repeal of long mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent drug offenders etc. 

 Read more about the Jobs Not Jails Priorities

WHAT YOU CAN DO
1.  Attend the Rally / Press Conference on December 13 at 10:00.

140 Bowdoin St Boston, Church of the New Jerusalem.  Jobs NOT Jails will have a rally/press conference to call on the four state leaders to include the six proposed bills of the Jobs NOT Jails Coalition

2.  Contact your legislators and/or come to the Jobs Not Jails Lobby Day in January – ask that they co-sponsor the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, The Justice Reinvestment Act, which will include the Jobs Not Jails Priorities.  More details to come – filing deadline is Jan 20

3. In March 2017, the coalition will organize six  major public action meetings in Boston, Brockton, New Bedford, Worcester, Springfield, Lynn, Lowell to show large-scale public support from major criminal justice reform and engage legislators, mayor, sheriffs, police chiefs.  

 
Let us know if you can help organize one of these events or offer a meeting space. Contact: Laura Wagner lwagner@uumassaction.org

Driver’s licenses within reach

THANKS to a massive statewide effort, the Senate passed the amendment to change the law to allow a person who served time for a drug offense to be allowed to obtain a driver’s license upon release.

There are few more steps to get it through the Massachusetts State Legislature, and we must sit tight and hope for the best.

We must continue to make our collective voices heard. Attend a Judiciary Committee hearing at the Statehouse Wednesday,  May 28, 1 pm, hearing room A-2 on the first floor. The Committee will hear testimony on whether the state will change the law from offering a parole hearing every five years for those sentenced to second-degree life in prison, 15 years to life, to holding a hearing every ten years.

Such a change would take the state backwards and further enmesh the Commonwealth in mass incarceration.  We must make our voices heard tomorrow.