by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
There are many tens of thousands of prisoners unjustly serving sentences “twice as long as any of the Central Park Five victims.” Mass Black incarceration is inseparable from official and societal corruption. Cops and, especially, prosecutors “are never charged when they suborn perjury, falsify evidence, threaten witnesses and use the power of the state in a myriad of ways to prevent mostly poor, black people from getting justice.
Freedom Rider: Who Prosecutes the Prosecutors?
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“Police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct are two heads of the same monster.”
Many Americans love to think that their country is the epitome of progress, democracy, and enlightenment. Millions of people will say that this is “the greatest country in the world.” These words are obviously born of ignorance and a belief in the superiority of the ultimate white settler state.
In fact, it can be argued that the United States has the worst human rights record of any of the “advanced” or “developed” nations of the world. It is the worst because of its blatant allegiance to white supremacy. Equal justice under the law is allegedly an American value, but those words are lies because of the never ending addiction to racism and violence. The worst, cruelest punishments are meted out to black people and the perpetrators have little fear of paying a price.
Aside from having a larger military budget than all other countries combined, the United States leads only in the number of people it keeps behind bars. There is a direct correlation between the enormous number of incarcerated, more than 2.4 million, and corruption on the part of the country’s prosecutors. No one knows how many of America’s prisoners are innocent but it is clear that a system built to put as many black people as possible in the confines of the criminal injustice system is not particularly concerned about whether all those in the gulag ought to be there.
“There is a direct correlation between the enormous number of incarcerated, more than 2.4 million, and corruption on the part of the country’s prosecutors.”
Police and prosecutors work hand in hand to keep the cogs coming into the machine. Police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct are two heads of the same monster and there is little legal recourse for the victims.
The men known as the Central Park Five, were minors coerced into giving false confessions in a 1989 New York City rape case. They languished in jails for between seven and thirteen years before their convictions were overturned in 2003. They then had to wait until Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office before Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to settlements totaling $41 million.
As hard as it may be to believe, these five men are among the lucky of the exonerated. In the same city, Brooklyn, New York, a corrupt police detective sent an untold number of innocent people to prison who served prison terms of more than 25 years, twice as long as any of the Central Park Five victims.
Former prosecutor Charles Hynes was dispatched by electoral defeat, but he isn’t in jail for ruining the lives of people like Jonathan Fleming. Prosecutors withheld evidence which proved that he was in Florida and could not have committed the murder he was charged with in New York. Fleming was recently released after serving 25 years behind bars.
The prosecutors are never prosecuted for the heinous crimes they commit. They are never charged when they suborn perjury, falsify evidence, threaten witnesses and use the power of the state in a myriad of ways to prevent mostly poor, black people from getting justice.
“It can be argued that the United States has the worst human rights record of any of the “advanced” or “developed” nations of the world.”
In some jurisdictions the wrongly convicted can’t even get financial restitution for their suffering. In Louisiana, John Thompson was exonerated of a murder conviction and released from Angola prison’s death row after 18 years. He sued the New Orleans Parish district attorney and was awarded $14 million by a jury. Full justice for Thompson was short lived when the district attorney appealed and in 2011 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the prosecutor’s favor and deprived Thompson of even a financial settlement. He had this to say in a New York Times op-ed column:
“I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.
“Worst of all, I wasn’t the only person they played dirty with. Of the six men one of my prosecutors got sentenced to death, five eventually had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Because we were sentenced to death, the courts had to appoint us lawyers to fight our appeals. I was lucky, and got lawyers who went to extraordinary lengths. But there are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final.”
A new story has surfaced about police and prosecutor collusion with an informant and agent provocateur who by his own admission fingered innocent people for arrest. In a New York Times interview, Earl Robert Merritt admits that he worked with prosecutors and police to falsely arrest 150 residents of a single occupancy hotel for drug dealing in 1994.
“I planted drugs, I planted guns, I made false reports. I was given a list – little stars by the list of tenants I was supposed to set up. I helped send hundreds of people out in handcuffs and I’d say 80 percent were innocent.” The current Manhattan district attorney has known about Merritt’s charges for at least one year, but hasn’t bothered to interview any potential witnesses who can prove his charges.
“Earl Robert Merritt admits that he worked with prosecutors and police to falsely arrest 150 residents of a single occupancy hotel for drug dealing in 1994.”
The list of the wrongfully convicted across the country is a long one indeed. The horror won’t stop unless someone at the top, like a president, wants it to stop. Barack Obama loves to brag about being a constitutional law professor. That title didn’t keep him killing Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son and it didn’t move him to support resentencing for prisoners caught in the crack war hysteria. In fact the first black president and first black attorney general worked to keep 5,000 people unjustly imprisoned.
So the innocents stay in jails and prisons and the system dedicated to keeping them there just rolls along. The least that we on the outside can do is plead their cases. The people who have the power to do so never will. In our twisted system they thrive professionally and politically precisely because they put and keep black people under lock and key.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.