Innocence Project shows for most Blacks: Guilty until proven Innocent

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Ever since the unjustified police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown much scrutiny has being applied to police departments and their historically wretched and racist conduct towards African-Americans. However, less attention is usually paid to those partners in crime of the police: prosecutors.

But a new report by the Innocence Project makes it clear that prosecutors are less likely than criminal police to be held accountable for their misconduct.

In this recent report the Innocence Project reviewed 660 cases that included “prosecutorial error or misconduct,” from 2004 through 2008. "What we found was very disappointing," said Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project senior staff attorney. There were errors found in 527 of the cases—including 133 errors that “were deemed harmful” and led to “reversals.”

The report also notes that “in a substantial number of wrongful conviction cases, the exculpatory material that prosecutors did not disclose at trial would have provided important leads to the true perpetrator of the crime. As a result, justice was denied to the crime victims in these cases, not just the wrongfully convicted defendants, and public safety was compromised.”

Given this reality, one should rightly ask: are there mechanisms in place to hold prosecutors accountable for egregious errors—and, or, malicious actions that deprive innocent defendants of their freedom?

The answer according to this report is a resounding no. The report found that “Legal ethics scholars have been calling for increased accountability for prosecutors for some time…Yet, very few prosecutor offices have any internal review policies, and…prosecutors enjoy almost complete immunity from civil liability.”

Doesn’t this sound similar to the lack of accountability Black people face when trying to find justice when we have been impacted by the racist murderous actions of killer cops?

This report, taken in context with the rampant racist repression of cops, paints a picture of a “justice” system that is anything but just.

In the report, the 1984 case of John Thompson, a then 22-year-old father of two, who was convicted of two separate crimes of armed robbery and capital murder—the later charge landed him on death row. But with less than a month left before his seventh scheduled execution date it was discovered that individuals in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office had withheld scientific evidence, including Brady material—and had even destroyed blood evidence that excluded Thompson as the “perp.”

Mr. Thompson was eventually exonerated and, initially was awarded $14 million for every year he spent on death row. However, in the Connick v Thompson case, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned that judgment, because, as the report says “the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office could not be held civilly liable based on a ‘failure to train’ theory of liability for what the court concluded was a single Brady violation perpetuated by one prosecutor’s actions.”

So, even in a case like this, justice was thwarted by the so-called Supreme Court. In case you were curious, Justice Clarence Thomas issued the majority opinion. Some of sellout Thomas’ reasoning is beyond bizarre.

At one point, Thomas seems to be blaming Mr. Thompson for his conviction because he did not testify in Thomas’ words “Because of his robbery conviction, Thompson elected not to testify at his later murder trial and was convicted.” One question to be pondered here is: why is Thomas mentioning the robbery case? Is it to slyly implying that the robbery conviction was valid?

Thomas’ talk about Thompson’s decision not to testify is obviously irrelevant. What bearing does it have on the particulars of this case that would make him mention it? What is more egregious here is: Thomas—as a “Black” man—may well have been used as the lead judge here to legitimize this irrational decision.

One of the most troubling, but not surprising, aspects of the Innocence Project findings is that only one of these prosecutors was disciplined. How can that be? No doubt, it is because those who have power in the courts do everything possible to deny being held accountable for their actions—and, it also explains why they use every tactical trick they can to exonerate police who brutalize Black people.

Ironically, the latest outrage perpetrated by a prosecutor that has people scratching their heads is the dubious decision that was made by Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson in the Akai Gurley case, where he has requested that Officer Peter Liang receive no jail time. According to Mr. Thompson, because Liang was a rookie, who supposedly had a clean file, he should be given a break.

Thompson’s strange reasoning discounts the fact that many people are jailed every day for their reckless acts, like those convicted of DWI who cause injury and death to others. Somehow the recklessness of Liang—having his gun un-holstered—didn’t seem to factor into Thompson’s curious calculus.

Or is something else at play here?

Mr. Thompson’s tenure started with such promise—given his exemplary work with freeing several wrongly convicted individuals. Unfortunately, his actions in the Gurley case has now sullied his reputation.

Who got to Mr. Thompson? Was it the Asian community? Or, was it the powerful police unions—who excuse anything and everything that is done by police?

This report is just another piece of evidence that makes it crystal clear that America’s so-called “justice” system is not “blind” but is in fact rigged in favor of prosecutors and police. This is why we’ve seen prosecutors like: Bob McCulloch of St. Louis, Missouri in the Michael Brown case; Dan Donovan of Staten Island, New York in the Eric Garner case and Tim McGinty of Cuyahoga County, Ohio all pervert justice to exonerate their police buddies. Who knows how many innocent people these folks have railroaded to advance their careers?

Unfortunately, Black America has often ignored those who have been warning us of the unjust nature of America’s justice system. America’s prisons are filled with many valiant Black political prisoners—who are there because they fought against police violence and murder, and were then setup by prosecutors and wrongly imprisoned. Many of these people, after thirty years and more, are still languishing in prisons while our so-called leaders denounce human rights violations in other nations.

Some of us are well aware of how journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was railroaded into Philadelphia’s death row. Mumia, who is no longer on death row, is now being slowly killed by the state as they deny him medical attention that he needs.

However, Mumia represents only one of many Black political prisoners who have been wrongly imprisoned. The list, which is too numerous to mention, includes names like: Jamil Al-Amin—formerly H. Rap Brown—Matulu Shakur, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Kambui, Robert Seth Hayes, Kamau Sadiki and others.

Two political prisoners who perhaps could be considered “lucky” were Black Panther and Black Liberation leaders Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt and Dhoruba bin Wahad. Pratt, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran was shamelessly framed for the murder of a school teacher. Pratt served 27 years in jail for this murder—even though it was known that he was some 350 miles away at the time of the murder—before being released with the assistance of Johnny Cochran.

Dhoruba bin Wahad, an articulate voice against injustice, who was a co-founder of the BLA who was also framed for the murder of two NYPD officers—and spent 19 years in prison. When the existence of COINTELPRO came to light, he successfully sued for FBI documents that led to direct evidence of his innocence. And Wahad’s case, like the Thompson case highlighted by the Innocence Project report, showed how evidence of his innocence was concealed.

In the end, the Innocence Project report sadly says what many of us usually don’t want to admit: that prosecutors, just like many police, engage in malicious prosecutions—and, ultimately get away with it, while innocent people pay with their lives.

 

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