Coalition Of Activists Demand “Justice for Chanel” Lewis Who Was Railroaded By Racist Legal System

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[New York News]
Activists rally in support of the wrongfully convicted Chanel Lewis...
Photo: Colin Benjamin

Activists from Color Of Change and VOCAL-NY rally outside Queens Borough Hall in support of Chanel Lewis...

On Tuesday, a coalition of activists rallied outside New York City’s Queens Borough Hall to demand justice for Chanel Lewis by delivering over 30,000 petitions from concerned citizens who agree Lewis’ murder conviction was a legal travesty.

Lewis, 22, was convicted on April 1 of the murder of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, who was killed on August 2, 2016, while jogging in Queens, New York. He was then sentenced to life on April 23.

But Lewis’ troubling arrest—and obviously coerced confession—tainted his trial. His case has become a symbol of institutional racism in America’s legal system.

Chanting “we want justice for Chanel,” the activists stood on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to denounce Lewis’ conviction. Activists from Color of Change and VOCAL-NY were present at Tuesday’s rally. The activists received over 30,000 petitions from Americans who realize that a travesty of justice occurred in this case.

Color of Change activists, who spearheaded the petition drive for Lewis, spoke out against the “tainted” and “racist” investigation that led to his arrest—and the unfair trial and conviction that followed.

“We’re here today to demand justice for Chanel Lewis,” said Color of Change’s senior campaign manager Kristen Miller. “Chanel Lewis is a young Black man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole despite evidence of a tainted racist investigation. Chanel Lewis did not have a fair trial. We are here to demand that Chanel Lewis’s case be reopened.”

Miller then talked about the signatures Color of Change secured on Lewis’ behalf from “over 30,000 petition signatures from people across the country who are demanding justice for Chanel Lewis.”

“We’ve worked with petition starter Mo Glover who will be speaking today, starting this petition,” said Miller. “And like many New Yorkers, and people across the country, we believe that Chanel Lewis deserves a fair trial and access to support, and advocacy, that is his constitutional right.”

Miller likened the Chanel Lewis case to another New York City case where police were convincingly accused of misconduct and railroading innocent defendants: The Central Park Five.

“Unfortunately, this case is reminding us so much of the Central Park Five Case that took place in this same city just three decades ago” said Miller. “Like Chanel, these young Black boys were racially profiled arrested and interrogated without receiving access to legal counsel that was their constitutional right. Like Chanel, the media painted these boys as heinous monsters before their trials had even begun. And, like Chanel, their convictions were based on inconsistent contradictory information and coercive confessions. New Yorkers know that we have a responsibility not to repeat the mistakes of the past, which is why we are demanding that Chanel’s case be reopened immediately.”

Mo Glover, who started the petition for Chanel Lewis, also spoke.

“I just want to express the fact that I’m not a politician, I don’t have any special interests,” said Glover. “I’m just a woman of color, and a native New Yorker, that heard about Chanel Lewis’ case and became very alarmed. This is a man of color who was accused of a crime and was not given a fair trial because of a racist justice system.”

Glover also talked about the collecting of DNA from hundreds of Black men in Queens and Brooklyn.

“I know that 350 men were tested, their DNA’s were tested without probable cause,” said Glover. “I would hope, especially with the election coming up, that more New Yorkers would become more involved in our justice system. It is very alarming that we have a justice system that is unbalanced and that we have trials that are not handled properly.”

Chanel Lewis’s mother, Veta Lewis, also spoke.

“Today, I want the whole world to know that Chanel Lewis is innocent,” said Lewis. “My son did not kill Karina Vetrano. My son did not get a fair trial. The judge, Michael Aloise, said that my son would ask forgiveness, when he does he will be doing it inside a cage. My son do not deserve to be in a cage. He is not an animal. Unfortunately, many Black men, including my son, [have] been seen as animals before they were tried by a jury of their peers. I demand an answer, right now, from the district attorney [in] regards to my son trial. It was handled so poorly. And he did not get his Sixth Amendment right to a new trial. I hope from the bottom of my heart my son will be granted an appeal.”

The Black Star News asked the activists about their next plan of action to secure justice for Lewis.

“Our next plan of action is to unite all folks that are concerned,” said Glover. “And hope to get their support."

The Black Star News also asked the activists if they had heard anything from the hundreds of Black men who had their DNA taken by the NYPD.

Glover responded saying “we would like any of the men that DNA was taken to please contact us. Please come forward because we understand that their rights were compromised, and we do not want this to happen again. We hope the attorney general gives a statement in regard to the DNA taken.”

The Chanel Lewis case represents a reprehensible travesty of justice. It illustrates institutional racism at work.

The first problem in Lewis’ case is the “confession.” Chanel Lewis’ diminished metal capacity has been clearly established. Yet his “confession” was one of the central things that used to convict him—in an eerily similar way to the Central Park Five.

There are other serious questions here regarding the NYPD.

For one thing, according to an anonymous letter, reportedly from a law enforcement official, the NYPD was first looking for two White men. That letter sent to Lewis’ defense team alleges NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Kemper “stated on several occasions at these meetings” that they were “looking for two jacked up White guys who are from Howard Beach.”

How did the NYPD go from two “White guys” to a single—mentally challenged—Black guy?

The NYPD claims they found Lewis’ DNA on Vetrano’s neck, fingertips, and phone—but nowhere on her private parts. Let’s remember this: Ms. Vetrano was vaginally, and anally, raped. So, we’re supposed to believe Lewis was smart enough not to leave his DNA on Vetrano’s private parts—but would leave it on her phone?

This leads us to the next outrage here: the alleged wholesale collection of DNA, by the NYPD, from some 360 to 384 Black men, which Lewis’ defense team called “a race-biased dragnet.”

This serious accusation is screaming for further investigation. Were these DNA collections lawfully, or were they coerced?

The other thing here regarding DNA is: why did the NYPD ask Ms. Vetrano’s father, Phil Vetrano for his DNA? Vetrano himself was quoted as saying "I told them, 'If you need my right arm, I'll give you that." Of course, it is understandable why the NYPD suspected him: Mr. Vetrano was the one, not the detectives who found the body. According to NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, Mr. Vetrano "went into the woods, and then found the body with our detectives after him.” Vetrano said he helped with the search because “I know the terrain.” However, accusing a firefighter, like Vetrano, of such a crime is nearly as verboten as accusing a cop.

Then there is the trial and the questionable conduct of the jurors and judge.

One juror in particular—called in court documents Juror D—was accused of trying to convince other jurors of Lewis’ guilt. This juror said that “the absence of Defendant’s DNA in the victim’s private swabs (specifically from the vagina, perianal, and anal cavities) could be explained because the vagina is like a sponge or vacuum—it had absorbed the male DNA." Talk about deranged logic.

The jury foreperson also allegedly told another juror “well, I have my mind made up and I hope you do too." This apparently occurred after the testimony of Vetrano’s parents.

But none of these allegations, or any of the other questionable circumstances in Lewis’ case, seemed to matter in this supposed court of law. Judge Michael Aloise himself has been accused of bias in this case. Aloise seemed to gloat when he sentenced Lewis saying, “you'll be in a cage."

Everything about the case of Chanel Lewis stinks. Everything points to his innocence.

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