As communities across the country express outrage over the grand jury decision not to indict Darrell Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, and the officer who killed Eric Garner, another relevant case from the Ferguson area is proceeding to trial that’s gives important context. Sylvester Caldwell, the Mayor of Pine Lawn, a neighboring town to Ferguson has been indicted on federal charges of extortion. The following is a video from Pine Lawn and Ferguson residents describing the political corruption in these small municipalities that allowed for the racially targeted police violence to fester. The footage was captured when De-Bug/ACJP producers were in the Ferguson area just two weeks before the shooting death of Michael Brown. For more context regarding wrongful arrests in North St.Louis County, please read the report released by our friends at the ArchCity Defenders.
With the no indictment decision of officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Mike Brown, and the the same outcome on the officers who killed Eric Garner, the country is left to wonder: Is it even possible for police to be held accountable in the courts? Retired public defender, and ACJP co-founder, Aram James explores the history and potential possibilities of addressing the questions. In the piece, James cites Supreme Court case law advancing the notion that court proceedings for officers should be public and transparent.
No Indictment, no justice, in the cold blooded killing of unarmed African-American youth Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. Shortly after, the same no indictment in the New York killing of unarmed African-American father Eric Garner — a death shown around the world on video.
Can we achieve systemic justice in officer involved shootings, and other forms of police murder? Is it possible in this country, given our two tier justice system, one designed for the police and another designed for the rest of us? What are the necessary steps we must take to restore trust in our criminal justice system, when the police seem, rarely, if ever, to be held fully accountable, when they shoot and kill, strangle and tase and brutally beat to death, unarmed people of color, and the poor? Continue reading
We are proud to announce Time Saved: The 1800 Party — a special gathering of families who make up over 1800 years of time saved from incarceration or detention. The event will bring together families we have worked with over the years who have beat misdemeanors to life sentences, and deportations. They also represent what is possible in challenging mass incarceration through family and community organizing in the courts — what we call “participatory defense.” The event will also serve as the premiere of our series “Time Saved” a documentary series of families and public defenders who through their collaboration prevent incarceration. To come, or to donate, please RSVP the email on the flyer.
At De-Bug’s ACJP, we have worked with countless families on a case by case basis on how they can construct a mitigation packet — a collection of letters, photos, certificates — to be submitted to their public defender to use for charge or sentence reduction. The packets have helped stop life sentences, have removed strike priors, turned felonies into misdemeanors, and over all reduced the amount of incarceration for community members. This week we held our first workshop, walking through the process, requirements, and approaches for families to create effective packets. In the room are mothers who sons were facing significant prison time, families who’s loved ones faced deportation, and others. We are excited to share the workshop to whomever is interested so they too can help bring the power of family story into the courtroom to impact cases. Feel free to email us if interested in a workshop! In the image, on the wall on the right, are pictures of families we have done social biography videos for, and a map of where we have trained public defenders on the concept.
Much respect to Gideon’s Promise warrior Anna Kurien of the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office, who after attending a workshop we gave on how public defenders can make social biography videos to reduce sentences, took the plunge and tried one for the sake of her client. Anna is a profoundly committed advocate, and we had great conversations when she would call to get feedback on interviews and production, and she spent weekends getting footage with her client and family. Read her story to see her remarkable results!
My 41 year client faced a charge that carried a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison with no possibility of parole. Given my review of the case, I knew that I had to put all my energy towards mitigation and hope for a miracle. After attending the Gideon’s Promise training on social biography videos conducted by Raj from De-Bug’s ACJP, I knew this was a compelling case for mitigation and that a social biography video would humanize my client to the State.
After hours of attorney-client conversations and meeting with our office social worker, we developed the main points we wanted to communicate through the video. Continue reading
My first charge as an adolescent was a petty theft. When I think back 19 years ago my reasons for my actions seem so juvenile — peer pressure, lack of adult influence in my life and simply boredom growing up in a small town population 26,000 and a huge drug scene. A petty theft was simply entertainment to young people back in those days. When I turned 18, I was super excited to have shook the juvenile system. I had many great plans and ideas of what my life would be like now that I was free from the juvenile system. I guess you could say I had hope for my future, but to my surprise shortly after I turned 18 I was incarcerated for another petty theft.
My behaviors had never been addressed, just pushed aside. I had time to serve, but never the support or tools needed to be truly corrected. I’m sure you can imagine at the age of 18, my ideas about life are completely different than at the age of 12, especially being a single mom at the age of 18. Life showed up, and when it did, I behaved in a way that screamed “just survive.” Continue reading
In 1999, about this time of the year, I was hanging billboard-size banners off freeway overpasses with a bunch of people I just met that morning. The spray-painted bedsheets read “No on Prop 21!” and “Stop Criminalizing Youth of Color.”
We were part of California’s burgeoning youth movement – mainly twentysomethings who were coming of age at a fork-in-the-road moment for the state in terms of how it viewed, responded to and served its young people.
Proposition 21 was a “tough-on-crime” initiative from a continuum of policies set in the 1980s. Under its language, juveniles could be charged as adults, which would significantly increase prison sentences for a broad array of felonies. Ultimately, it promised to dramatically increase California’s incarceration rates.
California voters passed Proposition 21 (despite massive organizing by young people). It committed California — financially and ethically — to the notion that “lock-them-up politics” was a sound public safety framework to move us forward. Generations of California’s youth have been paying the price ever since.
Our prisons are now so crowded that the U.S. Supreme Court found them in violation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. And the money required to support the exponential growth in California’s incarceration numbers has depleted public resources that could have gone to opportunities and supportive structures for youth through education and social services. Continue reading