Much thanks to writer Katti Gray for this piece on the growth of participatory defense!
This article was originally published in The Crime Report, a criminal justice news service.
Ramon Vasquez was facing the threat of a lifetime in prison when he stood trial for a 2008 murder he didn’t commit.
“The only number I heard in court, was ’80 years.’ Like, I might get 80 years if I was convicted,” recalled Vasquez, a San Jose, Calif. delivery-truck driver.
Vasquez, then 29, knew the evidence proving his innocence was out there. But neither the expensive private lawyer his family initially hired but couldn’t afford nor the court-appointed attorney he wound up with (who urged Vasquez to plead guilty so he’d be eligible for parole within about eight years) seemed willing to go get it. (CLICK HERE TO GO TO CBS ARTICLE >>>)
The following is a dual writing project from Frankie, who is currently serving a Life Without Parole sentence, and his wife Yolanda, who in a lot of ways is doing the sentence as well from the outside. The writing is part of Silicon Valley De-Bug’s “Lockdown Love Series” — reflections about the relationships of those impacted by the walls of incarceration — our loved ones inside and the families who love them. The title,”Lockdown love”, comes from Joe and Benee, a San Jose love story – a couple who have been holding it down for each other during Joe’s years of incarceration. “Joe is my heart,” writes Benee. Joe and Benee also wanted to let other prison/ jail spouss know and feel that they are not alone and things could be done with love. Here is the love letters of Yolanda and Frankie.
Every Year He Asks Me, Will You Be My Valentine?
By Yolanda Ledesma
Frank and I met in our early childhood, we were children playing, getting dirty, and cheering each other on at birthday parties all without a care in the world. Time went on and our paths went in different directions.
Fast-forward ten years, I was at a friend’s house and across the street lived my future Frankie. We knew each other but I wasn’t interested; he was, and not shy nor quiet about it. (Click here to read more…)
The “erasing the name” ceremony is a special moment at participatory defense meetings. At meetings, loved ones put the name of the their family member on the board and on a weekly basis develop ways to impact the outcome of the case. And when their loved one comes home, they attend the meeting, and erase their name. It means that the family, community, and freedom has won. Here’s when Brenda erased her name.
Check out this 5 minute video from the first ever National Participatory Defense Gathering! In late October we brought together participatory defense hubs we have trained from across the country so they could share their experiences, learn from one another, and deepen this practice that turning Time Served into Time Saved nationally. We had twelve communities from different states come and strategize on how we can grow this movement to end mass incarceration as we step into 2017. Thank you to all the freedom fighters who attended!
Congrats to our community partners and the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office for the news feature on the launch of their participatory defense hub! Families from Pottstown were commuting across the county to the Norristown participatory defense meetings in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, but with the support of the Cadcom facilitators, the public defender, and the Pottstown community leaders — they started their own hub. Check out their story by clicking here…
Colin Kaepernick with De-Bug team members
It was with great honor that De-Bug//ACJP was able to give a session at Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp for hundreds of Oakland youth. The camp was an incredible holistic campaign to “raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instructions to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.” The De-Bug//ACJP team gave a session on how youth of color can protect their rights during interactions with police, as well as what they and their communities can do after an arrest to bring their loved one home (participatory defense tactics). Ramon Vasquez — who was wrongfully charged for a murder, and eventually won a factual finding of innocence — shared his story about what happened to him and what he and his family did to win his freedom. Lamar Noble also gave his testimony of being wrongfully charged with resisting arrest and how he challenged the false allegations.
What we find working with communities across the country is while there is attention on what to do with police interactions, our movement needs to also be equipped on how to respond even after the initial contact with police — which is just the first face of the criminal justice system. We wanted to impart a belief that young people and their communities have the power and capacity to fight back against a system that targets them in the streets and in the courts. So every youth was given a First 24 Oakland Youth Edition — which listed not only their rights around police contact, but also gave key county and juvenile court specific information on what they can do after an arrest and through the duration of the court process. Sarait Escorza, a De-Bug participatory defense organizer, walked the youth through the poster, which also included who to call immediately after an arrest to intervene in a detention. Special thanks to the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, the A.L. Costa Community Development Center, and Human Rights Watch for contributing to the poster!
The Know Your Rights Camps will be happening all around the country, so stay tuned to their site for more information. And if your community would want De-Bug//ACJP to give a participatory defense workshop to youth, or develop a First 24 poster with your county, reach out to us. We also currently have one for Santa Clara County, Hennipin County, Nashville, Denver, and are collaborating to make them in New York, Philly, Durham, and more. And much respect to Colin, Nessa, Cat, and the whole Know Your Rights Camp team for believing in and supporting the youth!
The First 24 Oakland Youth Edition, with a Yes on Prop 57 flier and De-Bug the System sticker!
First 24 Download: oaklandyouth24
As part of a larger campaign to pass Proposition 57, which among other reforms, would end prosecutors power to direct file on youth, we produced this 2 minute video. The animation shares starling numbers around the rise of incarceration in California, and in particular, the impact on youth of color. Please share!
Alongside our friends at Youth Justice Coalition, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Human Rights Watch, Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and National Center for Youth Law, we are co-sponsoring SB 1052 — a bill that would make sure a person under the age of 18 gets to talk to an attorney before giving up his or her constitutional rights. To help illustrate how urgent California youth and families need these protections, here are five families recounting a youth’s interrogation. These families drove from San Jose to Sacramento recently to urge legislators to support our youth. In the drive up, each person told us the hours of interrogation, and what that time felt like. To help us pass SB1052, go to: Miranda Rights for Youth! (And share this page!)
People of color killed by police are often known, remembered, and honored through their names connected to a hashtag. There are also those who survive the shooting, tasing, or beating by law enforcement; we just don’t know their names simply because they survived. They face the added insult of then being charged with a false crime such as resisting arrest or assault on a police officer. Henry Sires, pictured below, was almost killed. Henry Sires was almost a hashtag.
We are sitting with Henry’s family during his trial, and through a new site called almostahashtag.org, are reporting updates from the courthouse. Check out the site and follow our social media posts using the hashtag #almostahashtag and #freeHenrySires. Henry is the first case we are sharing through this new site to bring attention to those who almost became a hashtag. If you have a case that you want profiled, email us. We are trying to bring the movement on the streets that is calling to an end to police violence to also step into the courts, where the violence of the criminal justice system continues.