UKRAINEGATE: WHY IS THE U.S. ARMING UKRAINE? BIPARTISAN SUPPORT TO UNDERMINE RUSSIA

Pushback with Aaron Maté

 November 13, 2019

Ukrainegate impeachment saga worsens US-Russia Cold War

As the House opens impeachment hearings for President Trump, Professor Stephen F. Cohen (above) warns that the US military assistance at the heart of Ukrainegate escalates the US-Russia Cold War.

Guest: Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, contributing editor at The Nation, and author of War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate.

TRANSCRIPT

AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté, here with Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton and NYU, author of the book, War With Russia?, question mark, From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate. Welcome, Professor Cohen.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Good to be with you again. Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: So, let’s talk Ukrainegate, dominating the news right now. At the center of this impeachment drive against Trump is that he briefly froze military aid to Ukraine and the belief there is he did so for political purposes. Putting that question aside, what has gotten lost in all this is the question of why are we sending military aid to Ukraine, and is that wise policy? The conventional line we get is that we are helping defend Ukraine from Russian aggression after Russia invaded Ukraine, took Crimea illegally in 2014, and we are helping Ukraine respond to that and to help support Ukraine in its fight against Russian separatists in the Donbass. What say you to that?

Pres. Barack Obama

U.S. Pres. Donald Trump

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, the first thing to remember is, is that President Obama was under enormous pressure to send military equipment to Ukraine. I don’t know if you remember that or not, but it was a major campaign and it was led, as I recall, by people very close to him, and he refused. And why did he refuse? Well, I’m not sure what his calculation was, but the, the wisdom of not sending is clear.

First of all, what everybody must want is peace between Russia and Ukraine. So why would you pour more weapons, why would you tempt one Ukrainian—now the leadership of Ukraine has changed—but why would you tempt one or another Ukrainian leadership to broaden the war, where you want above all to bring peace? Correct? Secondly, in whose hands eventually do such weapons fall? I mean, there’s no guarantee in a place like Ukraine, that the Ukrainian army, which is involved in the black market in a big way, those weapons could go anywhere.

But ultimately you have a situation now which seems not to be widely understood, that the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky, ran as a peace candidate. This is a bit of a stretch and maybe it doesn’t mean a whole lot to your generation, but he ran a kind of George McGovern campaign. The difference was McGovern got wiped out and Zelensky won by, I think, 71, 72 percent. He won an enormous mandate to make peace.

Vlodomyr Zelensky

Vladimir Putin

So, that means he has to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. And there are various formats, right? There’s a so-called Minsk format which involves the German and the French; there’s a bilateral directly with Putin. But his willingness—and this is what’s important and not well reported here—his willingness to deal directly with Putin, which his predecessor, Poroshenko, was not or couldn’t or whatever reason—actually required considerable boldness on Zelensky[‘s part], because there are opponents of this in Ukraine and they are armed. Some people say they’re fascists but they’re certainly ultra-nationalist, and they have said that they will remove and kill Zelensky if he continues along this line of negotiating with Putin.

So now along comes Trump, right? So, Trump makes a wrongheaded phone call to Zelensky, about Biden and information. It was the wrong thing to do, no two ways of looking at that. But the more important thing is, and that’s why I’d like to see the full transcript of the…we’ve only been given a partial so far as I know. I want to know if Trump encouraged Zelensky to continue the negotiation with Putin, and here’s why. Zelensky cannot go forward as I’ve explained. I mean, his life is being threatened literally by a quasi-fascist movement in Ukraine, he can’t go forward with full peace negotiations with Russia, with Putin, unless America has his back. Maybe that won’t be enough, but unless the White House encourages this diplomacy, Zelensky has no chance of negotiating an end to the war, so the stakes are enormously high.

Why are U.S. weapons going to Ukraine?

All this stuff about Biden, it’s bad but it’s a distraction. It’s not what we should be focusing on. We should not be shipping more weapons there. What we should be doing, and certainly what, given Trump’s inclination to be a dealmaker and like a semi-peace candidate—but you wonder if there’s anybody around him to explain these things to him—but this is an opportunity for Trump to do the right thing and do it clean, to say to Zelensky, “I support this negotiation with Putin. I hope that you and Putin can settle your conflicts.” If the Germans and the French, because there was this so-called Minsk format that involved them, need to be brought in, okay, but Europe’s pretty much lost interest in this and there’s no leader.

I mean, what makes the moment interesting, stop and think about it a minute, Aaron, is there’s no kind of—what’s the right word?—there’s no transformative or decisive type of leadership in Europe. I mean, because these countries have their own leader[s]. Merkel’s on her way out. We don’t know what will be the next leader. Boris Johnson is, well, Boris Johnson. Macron is attempting to fill the role. He wants to be the leader of the West in a relationship with Russia. He’s trying to…it’s very interesting what he’s doing because he’s trying to replicate what de Gaulle did. De Gaulle wanted France to be the diplomatic bridge between east and west. Let him try, but there’s, there’s a moment, I mean, I, all my life I, I have a book called Lost Opportunities, Soviet Alternatives and Lost Opportunities [Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives]. There’s, there were moments in history, political history, when there’s an opportunity that is so good and wise and so often lost, the chance. So, the chance for Zelensky, the new president who had this very large victory, 70 plus percent to negotiate with Russia an end to that war, it’s got to be seized. And it requires the United States, basically, simply saying to Zelensky, “Go for it, we’ve got your back.”

The “military-industrial complex,” a term coined by former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let’s talk about the forces in Washington that do not share that point of view, that do not want to encourage a peace process between Russia and Ukraine. You know, you mentioned Trump, when Trump met with Zelensky, Trump did say that he encourages Zelensky to make a deal with Putin and he thinks that would be a good thing. But that is not an opinion shared in, in Washington.

Talk about the people who in DC, who helped bring us this crisis to begin with, the same ones who were pressuring Obama to send a lethal aid…

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Let me sit in your chair a moment. I mean, just theoretically, what could…what imaginable reason could anybody in Washington have for not wanting to see peace between Ukraine and Russia?

AARON MATÉ: You know, I have my theories. The influence of the military-industrial complex. It’s profitable to have tensions with Russia. There was an attempt in Ukraine, obviously, you know, at, with the Maidan crisis, the, which began all this, to wrestle…

STEPHEN F. COHEN: In 2013, 2014.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah, which is when the US helped—including Joe Biden—helped back an ouster of a corrupt but democratically elected president, Yanukovych.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: So, let’s stop there. I mean, we are obliged to use this formula, “corrupt but democratically elected.”

AARON MATÉ: It’s true.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, yes and no. But there…which is more important? That he…I don’t even know what it means that he was corrupt. I mean, he siphoned off a lot of state money for himself…

AARON MATÉ: He’s corrupt.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: This is culture.

AARON MATÉ: Okay.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: This is a culture. I mean, the point here is, is that we, since the end of the Soviet Union, have said that we want to promote democracy and particularly constitutionalism, right? As opposed to political caprice in the former Soviet territories. You agree, that’s been official American policy. Why then would you, you, you depose…support the overthrow by a street mob—whatever you call it, I don’t care what democratic banners they were carrying because there were plenty of neo-fascists among them, too—who had been a leader, who had been by all ratifying European monitoring organizations freely and fairly elected? It had been a fairly clean election, especially when he had already agreed to move elections up. I think within nine months you could vote him out.

The US –including Joe Biden—helped back an ouster of democratically elected president, Yanukovych, who called the effort a “coup.”

Why would the United States, therefore, immediately, within hours, this being President Obama, support was for essentially a street coup? I mean, it’s a blow to constitutionalism, the very cause that we claimed to be promoting, so we need to think about that. That was a turning point. It sent a message about what the United States really was prepared to send. I mean, that’s a little digression on my part, but it was a very important moment—and it was very wrongheaded.

AARON MATÉ: It was. You had John McCain and Victoria Nuland visiting Ukraine, Nuland passing out cookies to protesters. We can imagine if, say, Russians went to Mexico City, helped back a coup there and changed the government, and then talked about having Mexico City join a military alliance with Russia, which was the talk about Ukraine joining NATO.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: I fully agree, but I just keep coming back in my mind and replaying these events, that this idea that maybe democracy and constitutionalism could take root in these areas that really hadn’t had much of it, right? And this is a pivotal moment because Yanukovych, then the president, had by all counts been freely and fairly and constitutionally elected. Mind you, he had also signed an agreement brokered by the, I believe this is right, by the British, the French and the Americans, to have early elections, which happens in some systems. In other words, to have new presidential elections, not in a year and half but within nine or ten months.

AARON MATÉ: This is after that Maidan crisis began…

STEPHEN F. COHEN: As it began [crosstalk], a negotiation with the protesters, but okay, stop occupying the building, stop trying to drive me out of office, I will agree to new elections.

AARON MATÉ: But it doesn’t matter, he’s overthrown anyway.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Stop and think what was at stake there. Every person who wishes constitutionalism and democracy, well, in that part of the world, should seize that opportunity. Now, it is said that Putin and Obama had a conversation, and it is said that Putin said to Obama, “Do you agree to this solution? New elections?” Obama said, “I do.” Thirty-six hours later Yanukovych was driven out of office by a coup. So apart from it being it’s wrong, it’s bad, it’s stupid on the face of it, but it’s consequential, it sets precedence for American behavior. So now people are ragging on Trump about Ukraine. But we’ve forgotten what was really the turning point. I mean, it’s just been deleted.

AARON MATÉ: What was the interest, what was the motive? I mean, you asked me, but I’m asking you, what was the motive of the Obama administration to do this, to have Victoria Nuland and the Ambassador to Ukraine—they were caught in a phone call basically talking about who they were going to install as the Ukrainian president—what was their…

STEPHEN F. COHEN: The story gets a little torturous here, and a little legalistic. The pretext for the overthrow of Yanukovych was, is that he had been offered this wonderful trade agreement, this partnership with Europe which would make Ukraine prosperous forever but excluded Russia. And yet Russia was Ukraine’s not only largest trading partner, and still is today, by the way, which is interesting, right? But if you go into the demographics, the number of inner marriages between Russians and Ukrainians, it runs in the tens of millions. I mean, I don’t want to say they’re, they’re not one people, I mean, there is a separate Ukrainian identity. Ukraine is a diverse country. Western Ukraine looks to Poland and Lithuania, not to Russia. But, nonetheless, much of central Ukraine and almost all of southern Ukraine look to Russia as brethren, as kinfolk, as family.

Yanukovch, ousted by coup because he balked at bringing Ukraine into NATO, splitting it from Russia, its chief trading partner

To trespass in a family spat, which is not a good idea in our everyday lives, in geopolitics it’s a greater mistake. We went into something with profound cultural, familial, historical consequences that we didn’t understand. So, what was at stake at that moment was this, that the economic trade agreement that Yanukovych was offered, so-called European Partnership, I think it was, if you read it, and almost never…nobody bothered to read it. Other countries had signed it.

There was a clause that said that if you signed it, you agreed to adhere to the procedures, rules and norms of NATO. Very few people know that was included, but the Russians knew, they’ve got a lot of international lawyers. No, there…what this was, was an attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO, via the back door without saying, well, really, this is really a way of getting into NATO, it’s just benign. But it wasn’t benign. So, when Yanukovych balked, and by the way he balked also because financially it was not advantageous to him.

AARON MATÉ: He would have faced massive protests over the subsidies, the fuel subsidies that he would have had to have cut.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: With, I would then add, he, having already agreed to an early election, which meaning he would have lost the election.

AARON MATÉ: Right.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: But, nonetheless, coups are not good things in general. But in this country, with this legacy, with this notion that democracy is a really viable, viable alternative, and we, the United States represent that alternative, it was utterly discredited. Except by people…I mean, I’m not going to name the names of people who write fairytale stories about what happened, but, you know who they are, they’re very influential, they’re on television a lot, but it’s a fairytale, it’s not what happened. And, you know, to be candid, with Trump as our president, Obama looks a lot better to a lot of people than he did at the time, but the truth is, is that Obama was an exceedingly unsuccessful foreign policy president, and one of his failures of foreign policy was this, the way he handled this whole Ukrainian thing.

Trump impeachment inquiry

AARON MATÉ: Well, it’s interesting there, though, because here you had…you mentioned earlier that Obama did not want to send this lethal military aid to Ukraine out of concerns about it fuel… further fueling this proxy war that he helped start and about the weapons falling into the wrong hands. Trump gets into office and he actually adopts a more hawkish policy in the sense that he’s not facing all this pressure, because he’s being accused of being a Russian agent and a traitor. So, I think it’s fair to deduce that in response to that, to help get that off his back, he approves, he approves the lethal aid to Ukraine that Obama rejected. So, he, in fact, went further than Obama and actually acceded to the demands of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in Washington, which, that leads us to this moment here, because then he puts a brief freeze on that military aid and now he’s facing impeachment.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: And he’s facing impeachment not because of the military aid but because he appeared to want something for it.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: The Biden stuff.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: It goes back to the question, why are we in Ukraine anyway? What were the Bidens doing there? Why were we there? The short answer is obviously, I mean, let’s do what you just pointed out. Ukraine is really far away. It represents no particular national interest or a threat to us what happens there. As you say, it’s not like our border with Canada or Mexico. For Russia, again, to make my point, it is absolutely vital. It’s simply…there’s no more existential area abutting Russia than Ukraine, whether you talk about families, shared history, military threats and all the rest.

AARON MATÉ: So, in terms of what could actually solve this, assuming that Ukrainegate doesn’t derail the prospects for peace in Ukraine, the prospects of talks between Ukraine and Russia, first of all, do you think that Russia ever gives back Crimea?

STEPHEN F. COHEN: No. No.

AARON MATÉ: That won’t happen.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: No, well, “never” is a capacious word. Not in my lifetime and not in your lifetime. The reason is, is that even though Russia acquiesced into Crimea’s kind of assignment to Ukraine, nobody in Russia actually thought it was real. And to tell you the truth, if you have look at the lack of investment or caring about Crimea, it wasn’t clear Ukraine even cared about Crimea, but the reality is, is that in…in history, in folklore, in sentiment, in culture, Crimea has always been, in the Russian mind, Russian. But it hasn’t been exclusive. I mean, they understood that Ukrainians, Tartars, Crimeans lived there, and for the most part, you know, harmoniously. So, it’s a kind of tragedy the way Ukraine got plucked out of its history.

Ukraine ethno-linquistic map/By the Business Insider

But no, no Russian leader in your lifetime, I—we should never say never, one thing I’ve learned, never say never—but it’s hard to imagine any circumstance where Russia would say Crimea goes back to Ukraine. However, a little diplomacy could go a long way, that the relationship between Ukraine and Crimea should be fulsome.  By the relationship, I mean particularly, particularly involving the natural resources Ukraine has…the Crimea has a lot of resources, from fresh water [to] the minerals. There’s no reason why because it’s now legally part of Russia [that] Ukraine should be excluded. So, and I was in—I guess it’s okay to say that I was in Crimea—and I talked to the leader of the Crimean Republic, and I said, “I don’t see any reason why the best outcome isn’t a fulsome economic, cultural and political relationship between Russia, Crimea and Ukraine.” And he said, “I agree. Go convince Putin of that.” So, there’s resistance in the Kremlin, of course.

AARON MATÉ: Why?

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, because it’s been raised to this geopolitical stake by the outside world.

AARON MATÉ: If they give ground there then they’re giving ground to Washington.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Yeah, but it’s gonna happen, I think. I mean, I don’t know if Putin has to leave power, if it’s that far down the road. But all the rational, whether they’re human or economic or cultural, the factors are, is that [Crimea] is kind of, belongs to both, and there’s no reason why it should be one or the other no matter whose map it’s on, if you see what I mean. And I think that’s going to happen. The, the number of tourists when I was in the Crimea two years ago, it’s hard to tell the nationalities of a lot of tourists because so many people speak Russian, but it still seems to be a very popular Russian tourist spot, obviously for Russians because Putin’s made a big effort of cheap flights and all the rest, but Ukrainians come, too, which is as it should be. There’s actually no reason to have this, this conflict over Crimea. None. Crimea has fallen victim to larger geopolitics.

AARON MATÉ: Do you think the people who drove this in Washington DC, who helped spark the Ukrainian crisis, who backed the coup, who I guess had visions of bringing Ukraine into NATO, as crazy as that sounds, do you think that they’re willing to give ground? And do you think that they can be overcome here?

 Handout picture released by Cuban newspaper Granma of Cuban militiamen manning an anti-aircraft battery of Czechoslovakian-made M53 12.7 mm quad guns at Havana’s Malecon during the 1962 missile crisis. AFP PHOTO/Granma

STEPHEN F. COHEN: It would be a struggle because their perspective is, is what’s bad for Russia is good for us, so, this kind of reasoning. And we went through this from the previous Cold War, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis there was a kind of…I wouldn’t say transformation in American thinking about that Cold War, but a shift where you began to see more and more important people that say, people who could influence policy, whether in the media or politics or whatever, beginning to say maybe it’s time for us to think more about what we have in common, what we can do together. Because that was really dangerous, the Cuban Missile Crisis, you know, we almost went to war with Russia.

We need some galvanizing force like that, I guess, and I’m afraid it might come, I mean, I can imagine easily. I mean, my anxiety, which I talk about in this book, War with Russia? question mark, is a Cuban Missile Crisis-like situation between the United States and Russia. Not in Cuba, but it could be in Syria, could be in Ukraine, where we’re eyeball to eyeball militarily, right? One can imagine something going wrong or not going wrong, by intent, by provocation, because there are a lot of provocateurs out there running false flag operations. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but false flag operations exist. So, say we get into a Cuban Missile Crisis-like situation. Kennedy had all the leeway he needed, and did Khrushchev, the Soviet leader then, to negotiate us away from war. Would Trump?

Stop and think. Here’s Trump, who’s routinely and pointlessly and idiotically referred to as a Russian puppet, right? That hasn’t gone away. I still get campaign solicitations from Democrats that say, “Send me to Congress so I can get rid of the Russian puppet.” And this lingers like a cancer in the system, it’s a malignancy. But imagine this crisis, and it’s easy to imagine in Syria, in Ukraine, wherever we’re eyeball to eyeball militarily with Russians. We now ask Trump to do what Kennedy did: to negotiate with Khrushchev’s successor Putin, away from war. Would Trump be permit… even if Trump knows how to do it, would he be permitted to do it? Because a large part of the American political class says Trump is not a legitimate president. To say that—and there’s no reason to say it, by the way, there’s no evidence that he isn’t by our rules legitimate—but to say that and keep saying it, then you have to ask yourself: and what if it came to a Cuban Missile-like Crisis? Would he be legitimate enough to negotiate the way Kennedy did, away from war? I think about that, really often.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let me ask you then, quickly, as we wrap. Is part of this, the point then is the aim of portraying Trump as this Russian puppet, is the utility of that for these people, to actually take away his ability to make peace and make détente with Russia?

STEPHEN F. COHEN: I think there’s probably a small faction in Washington that really likes cold war and the more the better with Russia. Whether it’s for economic reasons, they sell a lot of weapons; whether because they were raised that way ideologically; whether because Russophobia is a major factor in American politics; whether because they have—I don’t want to denigrate anybody—they have a lot of Ukrainians in their constituency where they’re from; or whatever reason. But it is exceedingly dangerous and getting more dangerous by the, by the week, by the day. Trump has to be free in a crisis to negotiate as a legitimate president on behalf of the United States, and a crisis could come at any time. And if he’s not, all bets are off.

BELOW: VLADIMIR PUTIN INVOKES LOVE FOR THE PEOPLE OF RUSSIA. HOPE FOR PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS FUTURE IN WAKE OF END OF USSR

I mean, I have to say to you, Aaron, that in four, maybe more decades of studying Russia, studying Russian-American relations, I never really took seriously the possibility of war between the United States and Russia. I never thought it was ever a…had a high probability. Today I think it’s a very high probability, partly because of this Russiagate nonsense, partly because the lack of American leadership. And I guess you could be called a Putin apologist, but I will say again as I’ve said to you on other occasions, that what Putin came to power to do was to modernize Russia, and that does not involve a cold war with the West. Period. End of story. That’s his mission. He wants to go down in history as the man who did this.

Cold war, not to mention hot war, is spoiling what he sees as his mission. He’s there for the having. And even if Trump wants to do it, it’s not clear he knows how to do it or that the people around him would advise him or even forbid him to do it, it’s not clear even with the departure of Fiona Hill and some of the other hawkish members of his administration. Because we have to remember that the one area where an American president who really has almost not autocratic but exclusive powers making foreign policy, short of doing a treaty there’s almost nothing, to use a double negative, they can’t do for better or worse. And there’s a golden moment now to be had for everybody’s security, and it’s been thwarted by this mindless…I mean, you can hate on Trump all you want, but there’s got to be a higher priority and that’s got to be international American security, and we’re letting that opportunity slip away, I fear.

AARON MATÉ: Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton and NYU, author of several books including his latest, War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate. Professor, thank you.

STEPHEN F. COHEN: Thank you, Aaron. Always good.

Aaron Maté

Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.

DEMOCRACY NOW Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

 


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HUNDREDS OF POLICE OFFICERS ARE PROVEN LIARS. SOME STILL HELP SEND PEOPLE TO PRISON–USA TODAY

DETROIT: THE WRONGUL CONVICTION OF C. EMMANUEL SQUIRES ON THE WORD OF  COP WILLIAM ‘ROBOCOP’ MELENDEZ, CONVICTED LIAR AND MURDERER

Below VOD’s local story on the Squires case  is the USA TODAY article: HUNDREDS OF POLICE OFFICERS ARE ALLEGED LIARS. SOME STILL HELP SEND PEOPLE TO PRISON.

Kym Worthy, Circuit Court Judge for 10 years, denied motion based on cop’s history of false reports.

The late Cornell Squires and community members march on the DPD 4th Pct. against brutal, corrupt cops, in 2003. His son Emmanuel Squires was falsely convicted in 2000 of “assault with intent to rob (armed)” on the word of DPD officer William “Robocop” Melendez although no gun was ever found. He spent 2 years in prison.

Then Judge Kym Worthy denied a post-conviction motion by the defense for a new trial after it was discovered that Melendez had been convicted of “filing a false report,” a four-year felony. In 2004, the US DOJ, with the assistance of the Detroit Law Department, charged Melendez and other officers from the 3rd and 4th precincts with numerous felonies involving extreme brutality, false arrest and  frame-ups. For the first time in memory, nine Black officers broke the “blue wall of silence” and  testified AGAINST the white and Hispanic officers charged. Many convictions were overturned, but a jury returned a “nullification” verdict of “not guilty” on the cop gang after a defense attorney focused on the civilian victims, saying, “Would YOU want people like these living in your neighborhoods?”

Floyd Dent after beating by “Robocop” Melendez et al on Jan. 28, 2015.

In 2017, the story of Melendez’ brutal beating of Black motorist Floyd Dent in Inkster, Michigan went viral, and he was convicted on those charges. Melendez had been hired by both the Inkster and Highland Park Police Departments, If Worthy had stopped him in his tracks in 1999, his subsequent offenses including a murder in Inkster could have been prevented. Dent was nearly killed by Melendez in the beating. Melendez planted drugs in the trunk of his car, but those charges against Dent were later dropped. Melendez was later sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison, but served only 14 months.

William ‘Robocop’ Melendez

Cornell Squires commented, “Now he has a criminal record, now he will get to feel what it is like to be on the other side. But he’s still getting preferential treatment—this is the second time they didn’t put handcuffs on him when they led him off. How many people has he put in jail, maimed and destroyed their lives, like he framed my son and gave him a record? He should have been locked up a long time ago. They need to revisit every case he had a part of; everyone should be exonerated.”

Video above: William Melendez is the officer on the left who drags Floyd Dent out of his car and then  proceeds to punch him in the head and elsewhere multiple times. Dent suffered permanent injuries.

On Oct. 31, 1999, Detroit police officer William “Robocop” Melendez, acting in plainclothes, arrested the 18-year-old son of Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality member Cornell Squires, Emmanuel Squires, and falsely charged him with attempted carjacking and assault with intent to rob (armed). The teen was standing on a street corner near his southwest Detroit home with two friends, where he lived with his father, with two friends.  He faced a sentence of up to life without parole.

Earlier, the younger Squires had witnessed a brutal attack on his father by DPD officer Robert Feld, who threw him through the door of their home on S. Electric because he asked why the police were questioning his son on the street, and began beating him. Cornell Squires’ father and mother, who lived across the street, ran to their son’s defense and forced Feld to stop the beating. But afterwards, the grandfather Eugene Squires Sr. suffered a heart attack which contributed to his death months later. The younger Squires was very close to his grandfather and traumatized by that event. 

When the younger Squires was accosted later by Melendez, his father ran to his defense and videotaped the arrest. In the videotape, dozens of DPD officers are seen searching the area for the gun Melendez claimed the younger Squires threatened him with, with no success. At trial, Melendez testified to the alleged armed robbery, while the younger Squires’ friends were threatened with charges if they testified on his behalf. The presiding judge was Kym Worthy, now the Wayne County Prosecutor.

She allowed the videotape to be shown only without sound, which would have revealed police expressing doubt about the existence of the gun, and an officer in charge telling Squires that his son would be charged only with disorderly conduct. The younger Squires, weeping, said at trial only that he missed his grandfather. The jury found the younger Squires not guilty of attempted carjacking, but guilty of assault with intent to rob (armed). Worthy sentenced him to 24 mos. to 10 years in the MDOC, despite his clean record. 

Subsequently, defense attorney Shaun Neal discovered that Melendez had been convicted of “filing a false report,” a four-year offense. That was never disclosed during the trial. Neal filed a motion for a new trial, which Worthy denied, and the younger Squires was shipped off to the MDOC, where he spent more than two years. His experience in prison further traumatized the young man. After a lifetime of advocacy for the people of Detroit, his father died of a heart attack in 2016, leaving his son and the two grandchildren he called his “baby bears” without a significant guiding force in their lives.

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/11/20/beloved-detroit-peoples-activist-cornell-squires-called-home-to-the-ancestors-nov-19-2016/ 

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2015/04/19/stop-police-murders-and-frame-ups-of-our-black-youth-jail-killer-cops/. (Article by Cornell Squires, who was also a VOD reporter.)

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REVAT VERA SPENDS 11 YEARS IN JAIL STUDYING LAW TO PROVE HIS INNOCENCE, FINALLY FREED

https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2019/10/14/brady-lists-police-officers-dishonest-corrupt-still-testify-investigation-database/2233386001/

Across the USA, prosecutors aren’t tracking officer misconduct, skirting Supreme Court “Brady” rules and leading to wrongful convictions–USA TODAY

By Steve Reilly, and Mark Nichols, USA TODAY

Updated 3:26 p.m. EDT Oct. 17, 2019

(Some photos, videos added by Voice of Detroit)

Revat Vara should not have gone to prison. 

One night in 2006, Houston police pulled him over for a missing license plate and told him to walk a straight line. 

Houston DWI Task Force/FB

Vara said that he hadn’t had a drop to drink and that he passed the sobriety test. Officer William Lindsey said otherwise. 

At trial, jurors were told about Lindsey’s expertise evaluating drunken drivers. They were told about Vara’s two previous DWIs.  

What jurors weren’t told: Officer Lindsey had been found guilty of misconduct by his department 35 times. He was investigated for padding his overtime – by manipulating DWI arrests so he would have to be called to testify – among many other violations.  

Revat Vara spent 11 years in prison because of a missing front license plate and prosecutors’ failure to disclose the disciplinary history of the officer who testified against him. Since his exoneration, he’s been living in Houston.

In a case that came down to one man’s word against another’s, jurors believed the police officer. Because of his prior offenses, Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

What happened to Vara has been unconstitutional for more than 50 years.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that prosecutors must tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might help their defense at trial. That includes sharing details about police officers who have committed crimes, lied on the job or whose honesty has been called into doubt.

A USA TODAY Network investigation found that widespread failure by police departments and prosecutors to track problem officers makes it impossible to disclose that information to people whose freedom hinges on the integrity of law enforcement.  

Reporters for USA TODAY and its partners, including the Chicago-based Invisible Institute, spent more than a year gathering Brady lists from police and prosecutors in thousands of counties to measure compliance with the landmark 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland.  

The investigation found:

Thousands of people have faced criminal charges or gone to prison based in part on testimony from law enforcement officers deemed to have credibility problems by their bosses or by prosecutors.

At least 300 prosecutors’ offices across the nation are not taking steps necessary to comply with the Supreme Court mandates. These places do not have a list tracking dishonest or otherwise untrustworthy officers. They include big cities such as Chicago and Little Rock and smaller communities such as Jackson County, Minnesota, and Columbia County, Pennsylvania.

In many places that keep lists, police and prosecutors refuse to make them public, making it impossible to know whether they are following the law. 

Others keep lists that are incomplete. USA TODAY identified at least 1,200 officers with proven histories of lying and other serious misconduct who had not been flagged by prosecutors. Of those officers, 261 were specifically disciplined for dishonesty on the job.

Protest after brutal killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO

The inconsistent compliance with the Brady requirements comes amid a nationwide debate over law enforcement tactics. A string of killings by police over the past five years in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere have sparked unrest and a reckoning that put pressure on cities and mayors to crack down on problem officers.

The revelations also come as reversals of wrongful convictions pile up. The National Registry of Exonerations shows that cases overturned because of perjury and official misconduct by prosecutors or police have more than doubled from 2008 to 2018.

Houston man spends 11 years in jail studying law to prove his innocence

Revat Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He spent 11 years in jail studying law to overturn his conviction.

USA TODAY talked to dozens of prosecutors and police officials across the nation.

Two county prosecutors promised to alter their policies or procedures for complying with Brady’s requirements in response to inquiries from USA TODAY.   

Maui County Prosecutor John Kim

“Now that you have raised this issue, we will consult with our corporation counsel and our circuit court supervisor about creating and maintaining a list,” Maui County Prosecutor John Kim told the newspaper.   

Most prosecutors who don’t keep a Brady list said they don’t need one because they know all of their police officers well. 

“I do not have a so-called Brady list. I do not have a written policy,” said Steve Giddens, the district attorney in Talladega County, Alabama. “I do not need one to follow the law.” 

Others raised concerns about unfairly jeopardizing law enforcement officers’ jobs by placing them on a list based on minor or unfounded accusations.  

Unions representing law enforcement officers have been especially outspoken opponents. In California, the union representing Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went to court to stop the department from disclosing 300 deputies with misconduct histories. The state Supreme Court ruled against the deputies in August. 

The lists are not designed to track people who should not be officers. Rather they are a tool prosecutors use to identify those whose past conduct might raise questions about their fairness or truthfulness as a witness in a trial – and require disclosure to defendants.

The argument about maintaining the lists or making them public has led to political battles, especially in cities where newly elected prosecutors have made fighting police misconduct part of their platform.

A training manual for Brady disclosure in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office states that the general rule is “Disclose. Disclose. Disclose.”

The tack has put the prosecutor’s office at war with the Philadelphia police union, which called the office’s maintenance of a Brady list a “witch hunt.”

Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby

In Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby started forcing officers who could be witnesses to disclose their internal affairs investigations. Mosby is noted for filing charges against nine Pittsburgh police officers in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, Jr.,at the height of the national “Black Lives Matter” protests across the U.S.

Mosby appointed a “criminal discovery liaison” to review all court-related requests for officers’ internal affairs information and send detailed records to prosecutors and other parties within 48 hours.

Mosby said the effort was necessary to increase trust and transparency in the city’s criminal justice system after years of scandal around corrupt police units and the increased tension between residents and police since the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in 2015.

Last year, the state’s attorney’s office started reviewing court cases involving at least 25 Baltimore police officers because of misconduct charges against them.

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Baltimore prosecutor seeks to throw out nearly 800 criminal convictions

By Josh Girsky, Taylor Romine and Jean Casarez, CNN

Updated 10:41 PM ET, Fri October 4, 2019

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/04/us/baltimore-police-corruption-cases/index.htm

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Prosecutors recently began asking the courts to vacate nearly 800 convictions that involved testimony or investigations by these officers – and more could be coming as the office continues to gather information.

Freddie Gray during his arrest by Baltimore police later charged with his death.

More than 530 Baltimore police officers have been added to an internal notification system, and defense attorneys are contacted if those officers are considered by prosecutors as witnesses. That list includes 183 officers who, because of their backgrounds, are automatically disclosed to the defense.

For Vara, who spent a decade behind bars for a crime he said he didn’t commit, an easily available Brady list could have changed his life.

At the time of his trial, Houston police and the Harris County prosecutor’s office were aware of Lindsey’s history of misconduct. As part of its last investigation into Lindsey, the police department asked the prosecutor’s office to charge him with a crime. The officer resigned rather than answer more questions – months before Vara’s trial.

Vara’s attorneys said the case boiled down to Lindsey’s word against Vara’s.

“There’s no breath test, no blood tests,” said Celeste Blackburn, who represented Vara on appeal.

Blackburn said Lindsey was the only police officer present that night to testify that Vara was drunk. In fact, court records indicate the other two officers said the smell of alcohol could have come from the passenger – a drunken buddy with whom Vara had gone out that night to give a safe ride home.

Neither Vara nor his defense lawyer knew about Lindsey’s history at the time of trial. 

“It’s crazy and it’s scary how these guys got the power to change your life like that,” Vara said. “The badge and that uniform gives them the power to do that.”   

A police union attorney informed the Houston Police Department in 2006 that Lindsey would not respond to the allegations, department records show. At Vara’s trial, Lindsey testified that he left law enforcement to pursue his love of teaching. He could not be reached for comment for this article. 

For decades, U.S. courts have set a high standard for prosecutors when it comes to disclosing problems in police officers’ pasts that might raise questions about their honesty and integrity as witnesses.

Building on Brady vs. Maryland, a landmark case that exonerated a wrongfully convicted Maryland man, courts have repeatedly held that prosecutors must tell defendants what they know about law enforcement officers’ backgrounds.

In a series of separate rulings, the Supreme Court has said that means prosecutors should know the backgrounds of the officers they rely on to put people in prison – and they must tell defendants what they know, whether they ask or not.

“Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted, but when criminal trials are fair,” Supreme Court Justice William Douglas wrote in the Brady decision.

Legal scholars have generally interpreted the rulings as a requirement that prosecutors create a list of officers with credibility problems.

But there is no comprehensive rule for what kind of behavior lands an officer on a list and few repercussions for police and prosecutors who flout the requirement.

As a result, how the Brady disclosure rule is applied depends heavily on individual prosecutors in thousands of jurisdictions nationwide.

Some prosecutors include only officers who have lied in court or falsified evidence. Others list those who have committed crimes, including drunken driving, or shown racial bias on the job. USA TODAY found wide variation in the level of documentation or investigation underlying officers’ inclusion on the list. Some might have been convicted criminally or flagged by judges for lying in court. Others had been found guilty in internal investigations. And many have been accused of wrongdoing and their cases are pending. In some cases, prosecutors’ lists don’t even say why an officer’s name is there.

VOD asked Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office if she keeps a Brady list, and if not, why not. No response was received.

Explore: Search hundreds of prosecutors’ responses to USA TODAY’s questions about Brady lists

In Miami-Dade County, internal training presentations obtained by USA TODAY show prosecutors being taught legal tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories.

The documents say prosecutors don’t have to go out of their way to disclose, and the burden of proving they covered up a questionable officer’s history is on the defense.

Prosecutor training in Miami

In Miami-Dade County, internal training presentations obtained by USA TODAY show prosecutors being taught legal tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories. The documents say the burden of proving they covered up a questionable officer’s history is on the defense. The end of the slideshow casts disclosure as a game of strategy between prosecutors and the defense.  

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Miami-prosecutors-Brady-training-slides.pdf

“Mere speculation by defense that information MAY be exculpatory is not enough to trigger state’s obligation to disclose,” the presentation states.   

The end of the Miami training slideshow casts the strategy of hiding officer misconduct as a contest between prosecutors and the defense.  

“You were happily playing Scrabble … but now you’re playing Chess,” one slide reads. “THAT’S A GAME CHANGER, SON.”  

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the elected state attorney in Miami-Dade County, contended the presentation does not provide instructions on avoiding disclosure of Brady material and said the chess game comparison in the slide was an attempt to “add a level of attention-getting levity to a very serious subject.” 

M-D County Atty. Katherine Fernandez Rundle refused to charge 4 prison guards with murdering prisoner Darren Rainey by throwing him into a scalding hot shower for two hours. She also refused to bring charges in the police murder of Latino graffiti artist Israel Hernandez.

“The problem with levity is that it does not always accomplish its intended goal,” he said. “This appears to be one of those situations.” 

Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor and now Pace Law School professor, said the courts have made it clear the burden is on prosecutors and leans heavily toward disclosure. Failing to disclose is not a game to be won, Gershman said, but a duty designed to protect the integrity of the court system. 

“It’s dishonest if that’s the way they’re presenting the obligation of Brady,” he said. 

Gershman said the lack of tracking and policies about disclosing officers’ misconduct is troubling because it’s at the heart of the legal system’s promise to provide every defendant a fair trial – a standard  prosecutors are sworn to protect.  

“If you’re putting a witness on the stand – whoever the witnesses, but particularly a police officer – and you have doubts about his credibility, doesn’t that raise a question of whether you’re prosecuting a guilty or an innocent person?” Gershman asked.  

USA TODAY sought records and comments from nearly every state prosecutor in the country to compile the first national view of where Brady lists exist and don’t. 

Nearly half the prosecutorial districts that responded reported not keeping an official list. More than 1,000 did not respond to the requests at all.

Laquan McDonald with autopsy results showing he was shot 16 times by Chicag0 police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014, one of numerous killings which caused the USDOJ to launch an investigation. At least 20 complaints and two lawsuits were filed against him  before he slaughtered McDonald. He was charged with McDonald’s murder and sentenced to 7 years in prison, the first time in 50 yrs. for any Chicago cop.

In Chicago, the Cook County State’s Attorney, the second biggest prosecutor’s office in the country, said it does not keep a Brady list.   

Instead, the office sends individual memos to its prosecutors when it learns a police officer was convicted of a crime or was found by a judge to have lied under oath, telling them to avoid using the cops if possible or to notify defense attorneys. The system leaves individual prosecutors in the sprawling jurisdiction with America’s second-largest police force on their own to track officers with credibility issues.  

See the records: The Cook County memos sent to prosecutors warning about potentially dishonest officers

https://theintercept.com/2018/08/16/chicago-police-misconduct-racial-disparity/

The result: A USA TODAY analysis found that dozens of [Chicago] officers flagged by judges or convicted of crimes were summoned to testify at trial in recent years, with no assurance the defense was notified.    

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 27: Demonstrators protest the shooting of Laquan McDonald along the Magnificent Mile November 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

In at least four officers’ cases, criminal court judges found the cops lied under oath during a trial. Court records show those four officers alone were listed as witnesses in at least 48 cases after prosecutors began receiving notices about them.  

Overall, officers who appeared in notification memos were called to testify in cases resulting in more than 100 felony convictions from 2013-2018.   

Across the country, thousands of defendants have gone to trial with no clear way to know that law enforcement witnesses had a history of misconduct.  

More: Fired for a felony, again for perjury. Meet the new police chief.

David B. Green was among the officers who continued to patrol the streets despite a history of misconduct.

In 2011, Little Rock police suspended Green after he bashed a handcuffed suspect’s face into the ground during an arrest, then lied about it.   

Former Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas

Green claimed the suspect resisted him by trying to stand up during the encounter. A department review of body camera footage showed that the suspect didn’t try to stand. Two other officers were holding the man down while Green beat him.   

Green was suspended for 30 days for untruthfulness and excessive force. His personnel file includes at least 19 suspensions and reprimands for offenses including domestic violence, excessive force and neglect of duty.   

Green, who unsuccessfully appealed the charges against him, could not be reached for comment. In an interview conducted as part of an internal affairs investigation, Green did not deny the allegations against him but expressed dedication toward his job. “Even though I get to work and I may not go home, I still love this job,” he said. Department records show he is a military veteran and received commendations in 2000 and 2005 for taking lifesaving actions.

Until November 2015, Green continued to patrol Arkansas’ largest city. His word was relied upon to arrest and help convict defendants. 

Little Rock cop Josh Hastings, who had long record of misconduct and was the son of a former Little Rock police captain, killed Bobby Moore, 16, in 2012. A civil jury found him liable.

Former Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas disclosed in legal proceedings that his agency doesn’t inform anyone at the courthouse about problems with his officers. 

“We don’t maintain or forward a result of every disciplinary action to either the U.S. attorney or the state court,” Thomas said in a  deposition in 2013. “I’m not aware that we provide a list or a continuing update or anything like that.”

USA TODAY reviewed discipline files for Little Rock police officers going back 15 years, then compared them with court records. The analysis found officers who the department determined lied or committed crimes were witnesses in at least 4,000 cases.   

Officer Kenneth Thompson filed a report falsely claiming no one was injured after he knocked a suspect off his chair in 2005, despite video evidence to the contrary. He was suspended by the police department for 30 days. His sworn testimony has been used in at least 687 criminal cases since then.   

Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson

Pulaski County Officers James Stanchak and Michael Terry were suspended in 2011 after they were caught on body camera video conspiring to lie about using force while arresting a man at a football game. Stanchak’s sworn statements have since been used in 222 cases. Terry’s have been used in four.   

Officer Eugene Gray was suspended for 30 days in 2008 after he lied to internal affairs investigators about an off-duty arrest he never reported. During that arrest, he seized a cellphone that was never turned into the police department as evidence. Gray’s word has been used in 256 prosecutions since 2009, court records show.   

Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson

Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson, whose office prosecutes cases in Little Rock, said the prosecutor’s office handles cases properly when it is aware an officer participating in a criminal proceeding has been disciplined.

“When this office is made aware of disciplinary actions by an officer (and) they’re going to testify as a witness,” he said, “we disclose that to the judge and let the judge make an independent finding as far as whether or not something is admissible pursuant to Brady.”

Failing to disclose officers’ past lies and bad acts can lead to wrongful convictions.  

National Registry of Exonerations: 987 people exonerated in cases involving prosecutorial misconduct and perjury or false report by police 

Since 1988, data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows 987 people have been convicted, then exonerated in cases that involved a combination of official misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or a false report by police and other witnesses. They spent an average of 12 years each behind bars. 

The registry shows a rapid increase in exonerations in such cases. There were 112 in 2018 stemming from government misconduct in the prosecution – up from 48 in 2008.  

Debra Milke cries as she is embraced by Attorney Lori Voepel, right, during a news conference, March 24, 2015, Phoenix. Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. In 2013,  Milke was freed after 25 years in prison.Matt York, AP

Among those wrongly convicted was Debra Milke.

After returning from a trip to see Santa Claus at the Metrocenter mall in Phoenix, Milke’s 4-year-old son, Christopher, asked her if he could go back.

Phoenix Det. Armando Saldate, Jr. 

Christopher Milke

Milke sent Christopher back to the mall with a friend, James Styers, who drove him to a nearby ravine and shot him three times in the head.

Styers and another man were convicted of the murder, but so was Milke, on the word of a Phoenix detective, Armando Saldate Jr., who interrogated Milke and concluded she plotted the killing.   

During Milke’s trial, evidence was withheld from her and her attorneys: Saldate’s police personnel file, which detailed eight cases in which indictments or convictions were thrown out because Saldate lied or otherwise violated a defendants’ rights.   

In 2013, Milke was freed after 25 years in prison.   

_____________________________________________________________

Revat Vara, left, who spent 11 years in prison for a wrongful DWI conviction, speaks with his lawyer Maverick Ray, right, in Houston. Vara studied the law in prison as he worked with his legal team to win his release in 2017.Scott Dalton for USA TODAY

For Revat Vara, the cost of 11 years behind bars has been heavy.    

Vara’s father died one week after his trial. His mother contracted leukemia while he was in prison, and he was unable to care for her. Two years after his release, he struggles to pick up his life.   

“Once the structure of the family goes … pretty much everything starts falling apart,” he said.   

Vara said he grew up in a low-income community in Houston, and his formal education ended at eighth grade. He made his living before his arrest working odd jobs in a convenience store and at a plant.  

Once he found himself behind bars, Vara said, he began contacting attorneys to ask for help with an appeal.  

He couldn’t afford the legal help, but one lawyer sent him information about Lindsey’s history of misconduct – which was well known among local defense attorneys. 

Vara researched how to file legal appeals on his own. 

“I knew I could never trust nobody again,” he said. “The only way that I’m going to do this is I got to study the law. I’ve got to get in that law library and fight for my freedom.” 

Vara said he spent two hours every day in the library. He was allowed a double session on Thursdays and Saturdays. He convinced one corrections officer to spend her lunch in the library to give him an extra hour. 

It worked. But Vara is still trying to put his life back to together on the outside. 

Still living in Houston after his release from prison, Vara said he hopes to attend law school or start a nonprofit group to educate youth in his community about the law. He said he is not angry at the officer whose testimony put him in jail, but he is frustrated that the criminal justice system allowed the cop’s misconduct to go on in secret for years. 

“It wasn’t Mr. Lindsey’s fault, it was the public’s fault,” Vara said. “Mr. Lindsey was allowed to do what he did because they allowed him to do it.”   

Supplemental stories by this team:

Fired for felony, then perjury. Meet the new police chief.

Police misconduct: Discipline records for thousands of cops uncovered

Search the list of more than 30,000 police officers banned by 44 states.

Death at the hands of police galvanizes mother

The team behind this investigation

REPORTING AND ANALYSIS: Mark Nichols, Eric Litke, James Pilcher, Aaron Hegarty, Andrew Ford, Brett Kelman, John Kelly, Matt Wynn, Steve Reilly, Megan Cassidy, Ryan Martin, Jonathan Anderson, Andrew Wolfson, Bethany Bruner, Benjamin Lanka, Gabriella Novello, Mark Hannan

FROM THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTE: Sam Stecklow, Andrew Fan, Bocar Ba

EDITING: Chris Davis, John Kelly, Brad Heath

GRAPHICS AND ILLUSTRATIONS: Jim Sergent, Karl Gelles

PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Phil Didion, Christopher Powers, David Hamlin, Robert Lindeman

DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Annette Meade, Craig Johnson, Ryan Marx, Chris Amico, Josh Miller

SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Anne Godlasky, Alia Dastagir, Felecia Wellington Radel, Elizabeth Shell


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RALLIES TO END WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS, SLAVERY IN MDOC! FREE OUR SISTERS & BROTHERS! THU. NOV. 14

Protesters march at Frank Murphy Hall in support of Thelonious Searcy and other wrongfully convicted prisoners, on Nov. 14, 2019.

Quintasha McCroy, Thelonious (Shawn) Searcy’s fiancée, speaks at rally to free Searcy in front of Frank Murphy Courthouse Nov. 14, 2019.

UPDATE: VIDEO COVERAGE OF FEB. 14 RALLY AT FRANK MURPHY HALL!In wake of victories for Charles Lewis, Darrell Ewing, Derrico Searcy, others, families gather to broaden  fight for all state-kidnapped loved ones

Estimates of innocents in MDOC around 30%; exoneree Mubarez Ahmed:  “dozens and dozens” more remain behind, due to corrupt judicial system

Nearly 2/3 of state’s juvenile lifers still behind bars serving sentences declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court

National fight opens to end life without parole (death by incarceration) in Lansing and across the U.S.

BY DIANE BUKOWSKI

NOVEMBER 13, 2019; UPDATED NOVEMBER 15, 2019

Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy’s friends are broadly circulating this text for the Nov. 14 rally.

DETROIT —  An extensive network of friends of Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy initiated the call for a rally to free him Nov. 14, to begin at 9 a.m. at the Frank Murphy Hall at 1441 St. Antoine, and continue with a town hall meeting sponsored by the Detroit People’s Task Force at 11:30 a.m. That rally will address multiple cases and issues in a system the Task Force believes is severely corrupted, seeking only convictions regardless of guilt or innocence.

The Task Force is asking for donations at the door to help with the cost of refreshments, as its funds are extremely low.

The rally comes on the heels of a stunning victory in the case of juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, freed Oct. 17 after 42 years in prison with a reduced term of years sentence. His attorney and other experts including a polygraph examiner expressed their beliefs that he is likely innocent of the murder of a police officer in 1976. 

He and his family endured three and a half years of re-sentencing hearings in front of Judge Qiana Lillard, during which the clerk’s office declared that his original file was lost and Lillard illegally ordered the defense to turn over its attorney-client privileged documents to the prosecution to construct a “facsimile” file. Lewis was subjected to unproven and slanderous allegations from the prosecution that he had somehow been instrumental in losing the file and forging a document dismissing his case signed by then Third Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain on April 3, 2000. 

On Oct. 24, 2019, Darrell Ewing and Derrico Searcy, incarcerated for nearly 20 years on murder charges, won a new trial based on Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway’s declared opinion that their original trial jury had been corrupted by extraneous internet material brought in by several jurors, and that the case against them was deeply flawed otherwise. One of the flaws was that another man confessed repeatedly to the murder involved.

Sonya Dodson, mother of Darrell Ewing, his aunt and father celebrate new trial.

The packed courtroom exploded with cheers from their families and friends. The case had been pursued through the federal district court to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and back to U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, who ordered an evidentiary hearing related to the allegations about juror misconduct.

Ewing’s mother Sonya Dodson had exhausted her resources paying for attorneys, but said the victory was worth it. The prosecutor said they plan to appeal the ruling, but defense attorney Phillip Comorski said he was confident of final victory.

In Searcy’s case, the road after a stunningly convincing evidentiary hearing held through the first six months of 2018 has been unexpectedly rocky and trying for him as he yearns for his freedom. Judge Timothy Kenny, now Chief Judge of the 3rd Circuit Court, ruled afterwards that evidence at the hearing would not have changed the minds of the original jurors and denied Searcy’s request for a new trial. Defense attorney Michael Dezsi has appealed that ruling, now to the Michigan Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled 2-1 against Searcy, giving no reasons. Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens dissented.

AP Patrick Muscat testifies at Searcy hearing.

During the hearing, admitted hitman Vincent Smothers testified that he, not Searcy, committed the murder for which Searcy is serving life without parole, giving lengthy testimony with accurate details including the fact that he killed the victim with a .40 caliber gun. His testimony was borne out by the revelation from forensic records that .40 caliber bullets were found inside the victim, not .45 caliber bullets.

Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat had alleged that Searcy killed the victim with a .45 caliber gun, and the jury was later falsely told by Judge Timothy Kenny, then the trial judge, that the bullets found inside the victim were “unidentifiable,” according to the prosecution and defense. Muscat was also the AP during the trial of Davontae Sanford, 14, freed in 2015 after a false conviction of four killings also admitted to by Smothers.

Searcy’s attorney Michael Dezsi appealed Kenny’s ruling, but an appellate panel ruled 2-1 in favor of Kenny, with no reasons given. Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens dissented, an aspect Dezsi stressed.

Quintasha McCroy speaking on behalf of her fiancée, calls for the firing of Prosecutor Patrick Muscat and other corrupt officials Nov. 14, 2019.

Read full appeal at: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TSearcy-Defendant-Appellants-Application-for-Leave-to-Appeal-1-compressed-1.pdf

ALSO SIGN THE CHANGE.ORG PETITION TO FREE THELONIOUS SEARCY AT https://www.change.org/p/michigan-attorney-general-free-thelonious-searcy

Protesters target Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Innocence Denier, Nov. 14, 2019

Marilyn Jordan and Patrick Tate address crime in city, frame-ups of wrongfully convicted, construction of new jail, condemn facial recognition technology Nov. 14, 2019.

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EXONEREE MUBARAZ AHMED: ‘DOZENS AND DOZENS’ OF OTHER INNOCENT MDOC PRISONERS, SYSTEM ONLY WANTS CONVICTIONS

Below, exoneree Mubarez Ahmed expressed a highly pertinent opinion on his release that the entire system is thoroughly corrupt, noting that there are “dozens and dozens of prisoners just like me” who are innocent but still incarcerated, because the system does not care whether they are guilty or innocent. Ahmed was freed    after serving 16 years in prison.

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Among the “dozens and dozens” of prisoners still unjustly incarcerated in Michigan are about 200 juvenile lifers, individuals who were sent to die in prison when they were children. They are still serving what the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declared are unconstitutional sentences, “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan and Louisiana are the two states that have most vigorously fought c0mpliance with the nation’s highest court.

Among them is another client of Michael Dezsi’s, Jonathan Belton. Dezsi told VOD that he and Geoffrey Fieger represented Belton at his murder trial in Oakland County, for killing  white Oak Park police officer Mason Samborski in 2008. Belton, who was 16 at the time, is Black and from Detroit. Fieger argued that Samborski accidentally shot himself with his own gun during a tussle with Belton after Samborski drove him to the Rue Versailles Apartments in Oak Park subsequent to a traffic stop during which he found that Belton did not have a driver’s license.

Belton’s girl friend lived at the apartments.

Jonathan Belton tells his family he loves them, saying he and they know what actually happened, after sentencing in 2010.

The prosecution charged Belton with first-degree murder and the murder of a peace officer, claiming that Belton took Samborski’s gun from his holster and shot him with it. 

“The gun was never recovered,” said an article in the Oakland Press. “Fieger insisted that the shooting was an accident and said there was no evidence to prove otherwise. He accused police and prosecutors of lying and fabricating evidence in an effort to make sure someone paid for Samborski’s death. He focused on a responding police officer’s use of a racial slur and said the case was filled with ‘innuendoes, assumptions, guesses and prejudice.'”

Tests for gunshot residue on Belton were negative. Fieger pointed out that Samborski had thrown Belton through a plate glass window at his girl friend’s apartment building, and said because a police officer had died, “Someone had to pay, even if it’s an innocent Black child.” The prosecution alleged without evidence that Belton was a gang member and said his father was serving time for second-degree murder. Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot said “theory is pure fiction” without evidence,  although not in the presence of the jury.

Dezsi moved the court without success to sentence Belton in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile life without parole. However, Dezsi said, he will be representing Belton at a juvenile lifer “mitigation hearing” in March. He said he still believes in his client’s innocence, and has grown to know him very well.

Meanwhile, Michigan prisoner advocacy groups have joined a growing national movement to end what is being called “death by incarceration” (life without parole) for ALL prisoners. The U.S. is the only country in the world that sends children to die in prison, and it is also the only country that has true life without parole, resulting in a burgeoning prison population including thousands of elderly prisoners awaiting death behind the walls.

by: Dana Whyte

WLNS TV–Lansing 

Posted: Oct 10, 2019 / 04:15 PM EDT / Updated: Oct 10, 2019 / 05:07 PM EDT

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – At the state Capitol today, more than a hundred people gathered outside to rally for prison reform, specifically for those who receive life sentences.

“The justice scale is different for our people, and it’s unfair.”

“He has done the time for the crime he had committed, but he’s still in prison,” said Patrice Ferguson.

Some of hundreds at rally for 19-year-old dad Terrance Kellom, executed by Detroit/ICE police in April, 2015.

Ferguson is talking about her husband. He was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder back in 1984.

She says his prison sentence just isn’t fair.

“Life really doesn’t mean all your life, I believe life means 20 years, my husband’s done 37 years,” said Ferguson.

Right now in the United States, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports almost 2.3 million people are in prison and if the country’s prison population were a city, it would be the fifth largest in the U.S.

William Hawkins, whose father is currently serving a life sentence, says that’s a problem.

“He’s been rehabilitated for years, he’s been in prison my entire life, over 30 years, but he hasn’t been given the just opportunity to prove himself as a rehabilitated citizen,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins hopes by speaking out, lawmakers will continue to take action.

“The numbers are definitely, you know, not adding up, so let’s go ahead and figure out why and let’s fix the system, cause we shouldn’t have a quarter of the prisoners in the world locked up in one country,” said Hawkins.

FREEDOM FIGHTERS JOINED STATE CAPITOL RALLY

By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD staff writer

Among those converging on the State Capitol to attend the long anticipated Rally For Lifer Law, Prison, and “Real” Criminal Justice Reform were a bus load full of supporters advocating for those voices that have been silenced due to their incarceration. That  actually amounts to over-incarceration of countless individuals who have served 35, 40, 45, 50 + years on parolable sentences that the Michigan Parole Board refuses to move toward a positive parole action on.

The event was organized and spearheaded by Virginia Hudson, David Hudson-Bey, Shelita & Kimball Gaskin-El, and others of the National Lifers Association. Among the people who took the one hour or so trip to Lansing, Michigan, in order to speak up and show support for the masses was Kenneth Foster-Bey, who himself served over 40 years on a parolable life sentence before finally being paroled in 2014.

He (Foster-Bey) was the main plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of roughly 850 parolable lifers by the University of Michigan Law School for those who were being arbitrarily denied consideration.

Since the initial granting of the Foster-Bey lawsuit over 400 parolable lifers have been paroled from 2009 to date, and none have reoffended. Another attendee at the October 10th rally was modern day Revolutionary Lawrence D. Rider-El, an advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals left in the trenches to languish with sentences equating to Death-By-Incarceration. Rider is calling for the fair and equal treatment of everyone impacted by the Criminal Justice System.

Lawrence Rider-El

Kenneth Foster-Bey

He states, “Until this so-called system of justice is revamped and reformed to reflect a fairness to every citizen then we will continue to see a criminal injustice system, which not only discriminates and strategically excludes a certain portion of our society from the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, it will continue subjecting them to an unequal playing field and likely impact those who are incarcerated as well.”

He also mentioned to a news reporter that (myself) “Ricardo Ferrell, a parolable lifer has served 38 years, who’s incarceration has cost taxpayers $1,500,000.00.” Some of the Freedom Fighters in attendance who spoke up in support of their loved ones and friends were: Shelita Gaskin-El, Patrice Ferguson-Booker, Kimball Gaskin-El, Micheal Bailey, Lawrence Rider-El, Shawanna Vaughn, Amani Sawari, Richard Griffin. Also organizations like: Safe & Just Michigan, MCCD, AFSC, MI-CURE, MCPR, ACLU, CFL, LIFELONG CURE, and other advocacy groups supported the rally and have long called for reforming the prison & criminal justice systems.

Several State Representatives spoke at today’s rally voicing their concerns. Rep. Tanya Garrett, and others strongly take the position that some sort of reform should be applied for those who have served at least 20 or 25 years on their sentences, which basically means those shown to be good candidates to parole.

PENNSYLVANIA RALLY TO END DEATH BY INCARCERATION OCT. 23, 2019


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DAN GILBERT/TRUMP RELATIONSHIP PROVIDED TAX BREAKS FOR TAKEOVER OF DOWNTOWN DETROIT

Donald Trump, calling Dan Gilbert a “great friend” and supporter, has helped turn downtown Detroit into “Gilbertville.”

How a tax break to help the poor went to NBA owner Dan Gilbert

Dan Gilbert’s cultivation of the Trump family appears to have paid off with Trump tax law breaks : Three swaths of Detroit were selected as opportunity zones under the Trump tax law

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VOD EDITOR: This well-researched story from Pro Publica   focuses on Dan Gilbert’s relationship with the Trumps, which handed Gilbert tax breaks to build his empire in Detroit, but Gilbert had equally strong ties with the previous Obama administration.  Those ties led up to the Emergency Manager takeover of Detroit and the subsequent bankruptcy filing which devastated the country’s largest Black majority city. For background on the ProPublica story, read VOD’s earlier story on Gilbert’s financial crimes under Obama,  at  http://voiceofdetroit.net/2013/09/11/dennis-archer-former-consultant-to-detroit-lender-ubs-ag-meets-with-top-obama-aides-execs/

Partners in corrupt Detroit financial management under Pres. Barack Obama, including (r to l) former Mayor Dennis Archer, billionaire investor Dan Gilbert, and former Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder initiated Michigan’s Emergency Manager laws which led to the takeover of Detroit and other majority-Black cities in the state. Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s EM; Orr promptly led the city into the disastrous Detroit bankruptcy filing of 2014. Pres. Barack Obama and U.S. Atty. General Eric Holder remained silent despite the pleas of the late U.S. Congressman John Conyers and others as this attack on the nation’s largest Black majority city was unleashed.

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Jeff Ernsthausen and Justin Elliott, ProPublica

 Published 6:14 p.m. ET Oct. 24, 2019 | Updated 11:33 a.m. ET Oct. 25, 2019

Billionaire Dan Gilbert has spent the last decade buying up buildings in downtown Detroit, amassing nearly 100 properties and so completely dominating the area, it’s known as Gilbertville. In the last few years, Gilbert, the 57-year-old founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has also grown close to the Trump family.

Ivanka Trump joins Dan Gilbert at 2017 forum on computer science development.

Quicken gave $750,000 to Trump’s inaugural fund. Gilbert has built a relationship with Ivanka Trump, who appeared at one of his Detroit buildings in 2017 for a panel discussion with him. And, last year, he watched the midterm election returns at the White House with President Donald Trump himself, who has called Gilbert “a great friend.”

Gilbert’s cultivation of the Trump family appears to have paid off: Three swaths of downtown Detroit were selected as opportunity zones under the Trump tax law, extending a valuable tax break to Gilbert’s real estate empire.

Gilbert’s relationship with the White House helped him win his desired tax break, an email obtained by ProPublica suggests. In February 2018, as the selection process was underway, a top Michigan economic development official asked her colleague to call Quicken’s executive vice president for government affairs about opportunity zones.

Campus Martius Park with white Chase Building/Quicken Loans HQ in rear center, both owned by Dan Gilbert.. Ernst & Young (r), a global professional services firm with $36.9 billion in revenue, played major role in disastrous Detroit bankruptcy filing in 2014, which stripped city of all its public assets.

“They worked with the White House on it and want to be sure we are coordinated,” wrote the official, Christine Roeder, in an email with the subject line “Quicken.”

The exact role of the White House is not clear. But less than two weeks after the email was written, the Trump administration revised its list of census tracts that were eligible for the tax break. New to the list? One of the downtown Detroit tracts dominated by Gilbert that had not previously been included.

Wall Street bond ratings agency said only six percent of Detroit land mass is eligible for triple AAA rating, warned of condition of rest of city.

And the area made the cut even though it did not meet the poverty requirements of the program. The Gilbert opportunity zone is one of a handful around the country that were included despite not meeting the eligibility criteria, according to an analysis by ProPublica.

Several weeks later, the Michigan governor selected all three of the downtown Gilbert tracts for the program.

Gilbert influenced the local selection process, as well, other emails obtained by ProPublica show: Quicken’s top lobbyist was so enmeshed in the process, his name appears on an opportunity zone map made by the city economic development organization, recommending part of downtown be included in the tax break. No other non-city officials are named on the document.

The result has likely been a boon to Gilbert: Multiple studies have found that property values in opportunity zones increased because of the tax break. Gilbert has put an estimated $3 billion into buying and renovating properties in Detroit, the vast majority now in opportunity zones.

In addition, even though the law was designed to incentivize new investment, Gilbert has several already-planned developments in the area that could benefit from the tax break, experts said.

The upside for an investor such as Gilbert “could be huge,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a liberal-leaning think tank. “This seems to be a situation where someone is going to get tax breaks for something they were going to do anyway.”

The White House, Treasury Department and Quicken Loans all declined to answer repeated questions about Gilbert’s interactions with the Trump administration regarding opportunity zones. Roeder didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation declined to elaborate on the email mentioning Quicken’s work with the White House.

In a statement, Jared Fleisher, Quicken Loans vice president of government affairs, acknowledged Gilbert’s companies gave input to the state but said they “did not exercise any inappropriate influence.”

The companies “joined a wide range of stakeholders in providing feedback into the Opportunity Zone selection process,” he said. “The State of Michigan engaged interested parties, asked for their input, and encouraged participants to share the State of Michigan’s request for input with other potentially interested groups.”

Opportunity zones were created by the 2017 Trump tax code overhaul. The idea, touted by members of both parties, is to grant lucrative tax breaks to encourage new investment in poor areas around the country. The Treasury Department determined which census tracts were eligible for the special status, based on poverty and income levels, and then each state’s governor picked 25% of them as zones.

But the program has been widely criticized as a giveaway to the rich that will not bring the promised revitalization in needy areas. There is no mechanism to track the program’s results, from how much new investment comes to the zones to how many jobs it creates.

Here’s how the tax break works. Say you’re a hedge fund manager, you purchased Google stock years ago and are sitting on $1 billion in gains. If you sell, you’d send the IRS about $240 million in taxes on the capital gain, less than you’d pay in ordinary income tax but still a lot. To avoid paying that much, you could sell the shares and put the $1 billion into an opportunity zone. That comes with three generous breaks. The first is that you defer that $240 million in tax, allowing you to invest more money up front. Plus, you can hold the investment for several years and you’ll get a significant reduction in those taxes. What’s more, any additional gains from the new investment are tax-free after 10 years.

The exact value of the tax breaks for any individual will likely never be publicly known because the program has no disclosure requirements. Gilbert’s holdings, managed by his firm, Bedrock Detroit, are private.

Bedrock Detroit wall around Gilbert-owned J.L. Hudson site brags of his plans to profit from  highest skyscraper development in downtown Detroit. The Shinola hotel building owned by Gilbert is at left. Photo: Clarence Tabb, Jr. Detroit News

Experts say two of the downtown Detroit tracts are islands of wealth in the city, one of the poorest in the nation. They are significantly wealthier by median income than the surrounding area. They include Gilbert-owned office space with high-end tenants including Microsoft, JP Morgan and Quicken Loans. The boutique Shinola Hotel sits in another Gilbert property that is now in one of the opportunity zones.

While the tax break is supposed to generate new development, Gilbert already has several long-planned projects located in the newly designated zones, including the construction of a glass-and-steel skyscraper on the historic Hudson’s department store site.

Gilbert at the 2017 groundbreaking of a skyscraper planned for the former site of Hudson’s department store, now in an opportunity zone. He owns so much downtown Detroit real estate, some people call it Gilbertville. (Photo: AP, file)

“These areas are not distressed,” said Conrad Kickert, an urban design academic who wrote a book about downtown Detroit. He noted that Gilbert also helped create a new streetcar line in the area, named the QLine after Quicken Loans. The area is much wealthier and whiter than Detroit as a whole, according to recent census estimates.

This year, Gilbert’s opportunity zone push has continued; his firm has been lobbying the Treasury Department on the regulations for the program, which are still being hashed out two years after the law was signed. The CEO of Bedrock sent a letter to the agency pressing the administration to adopt lax technical rules for real estate projects of the type Gilbert is pursuing, according to a copy obtained by ProPublica.

“We believe that the purpose of the [opportunity zone] legislation is best achieved through large-scale, multipurpose real estate development projects that transform and revitalize entire neighborhoods and communities,” wrote Bill Emerson of Bedrock, appearing to describe the firm’s mixed-use Monroe Blocks project. Therefore, he argued, the department should loosen the rules around how quickly opportunity zone investments have to get under way.

Dennis Archer Jr. (left) and Bill Emerson, Bedrock CEO, chat on the stage of the theatre at the Grand Hotel on May 29,  2019. Emerson filled in for Gilbert after he had a major stroke. Emerson claimed Gilbert empire is functioning well as he allegedly recovers. Dennis Archer, Jr.s’ role follows that of his father former Mayor Dennis Archer Sr. under Barack Obama administration. Crains Detroit Business photo

VOD: The above tweet from reporter Charlie Langton shows part of Dan Gilbert’s message to his employees on Aug. 2, 2019 after his stroke. Although the tweet claims Gilbert is doing much better, Gilbert’s speech does not seem to sync with his lip movements, as if someone else is reading his speech for him. To date (Nov. 8, 2019), nothing more has been seen of Gilbert in the media.  Questions have since been raised about the ongoing progress of the development of his empire in Detroit.

Gilbert’s rise in Detroit started in 2010 when he moved the headquarters of his mortgage firm, Quicken Loans, from a suburb to struggling downtown Detroit. His companies employ more than 10,000, and his influence is so immense that Politico named him to its list of the most interesting mayors in America, the only non-mayor on the list.

Gilbert’s downtown developments have already received city and state subsidies with few strings attached, a recent Detroit Free Press investigation found. Along with myriad tax breaks, Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority, for example, sold an important lot to Gilbert for $1. (He has also been advised in his Detroit strategy by another Michigan native and prominent Trump supporter, the billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross of Related Companies.)

Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with new bride Louise Linton, is a former hedge fund manager and owner. Gilbert met several times with him beginning in June 2017.

As Gilbert was expanding his Detroit portfolio, Facebook billionaire Sean Parker was embracing the idea for what would become opportunity zones: give investors a tax break on their capital gains if they agree to invest the money in needy areas. Parker set up a think tank, the Economic Innovation Group, to promote the idea in Washington. In 2015, Gilbert joined the group’s “Founders Circle.”

He hasn’t spoken publicly about opportunity zones, but his real estate holdings and businesses in Detroit were clearly in areas that would be well positioned to benefit from the tax break that Parker wanted to create.

In June 2017, Gilbert met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the administration’s point man on the tax bill that included opportunity zones. Gilbert also had a phone call with Mnuchin, last November, according to public calendars. It’s not known what Gilbert and Mnuchin discussed. (Spokespeople for Quicken Loans and the Treasury Department declined to comment on the communications between Gilbert and Mnuchin.)

Despite his relationship with Trump and the administration, Gilbert has tried to publicly dissociate himself from the president. He is in a particularly sensitive position because Detroit is a majority African American city where Hillary Clinton beat Trump 95% to 3%. Before the event he held with Ivanka Trump in 2017, Gilbert released a statement disavowing electoral politics.

In December 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which included the Economic Innovation Group’s opportunity zone idea. That prompted a scramble by state and local officials across the country to assemble nominations for the program.

By mid-February 2018, Gilbert’s lobbyists had joined the fray. They communicated with both Michigan and Detroit officials about opportunity zones, according to emails obtained by ProPublica through public records requests.

On Feb. 15, an official at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation instructed a colleague at another state agency to reach out to a lobbyist from Quicken to discuss opportunity zones.

The colleague, Brian Mills of the state housing authority, confirmed that he had a call with a representative at Quicken. The company was interested in how the state would select zones, Mills recalled. He advised the company that officials in cities like Detroit would have a lot of sway in the process.

A week later, a top economic development official in Detroit emailed maps of areas that the city wanted to nominate for the program to state officials. One of the maps reflected the input of Gilbert’s lobbyist, Jared Fleisher, who is named on the document.

Properties owned by Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate (in orange) in downtown Detroit in tracts included in opportunity zones. /Map by ProPublica

Curiously, the city’s recommendations shown on the map included a downtown tract that the Treasury Department had deemed ineligible for the program because it was too wealthy. Its median family income was almost 1 1/2 times higher than the opportunity zone eligibility requirements allowed, according to census data. Gilbert owns more than 10 buildings in the tract.

Days after the city sent the map to state officials, it proved prophetic. The Treasury Department released a revised list of eligible tracts. The downtown tract was now, for the purposes of the law, a “low-income community.”

Asked why the name of a lobbyist for Quicken Loans appeared in the legend of the map, a spokesperson for the Detroit Economic Development Corporation told ProPublica that “Jared Fleisher was just one of the experts we consulted on how the Treasury regulations worked.” She added the city “consulted with numerous experts” to assess which tracts would be eligible for the program, and that the city itself wanted the riverfront tract in the program.

It’s not clear why Gilbert’s lobbyist believed that the tract would end up being eligible for the program. Fleisher did not answer questions on the issue but said in a statement that Gilbert’s companies had not “engaged in advocacy activities (monetary or otherwise) regarding the eligibility of certain areas.” A Treasury Department spokesman said only that “the Treasury officials that typically work on opportunity zone issues had no knowledge of this matter.”

In a statement, Fleisher declined to comment on the nature of his interactions with the city, but he told ProPublica, “Ultimately, the City of Detroit — not (Gilbert’s) Rock Family of Companies or any other respondent to the open call for comments — made the recommendations to the state about which census tracts in Detroit should be selected.”

Two weeks after the Treasury Department issued its revision, the city recommended the tract for the program, along with several others in which Gilbert had substantial investments. They did so even though those tracts were not included in a list of recommendations for Detroit that the Michigan State Housing Development Authority had assembled and shared with the city.

In the end, the state deferred to the city, and in April 2018, the downtown tracts in which Gilbert had poured so much capital officially became opportunity zones.

An analysis by ProPublica found that one of the tracts only became eligible through a provision in the law that was intended to allow areas that had been designated for a Clinton-era anti-poverty measure to be included in the program. However, experts told ProPublica that the Treasury Department’s mapping analysis was deeply flawed, and that it erroneously allowed a handful of areas to become opportunity zones. As ProPublica previously reported, a similar loophole allowed a tract largely owned by Kevin Plank, billionaire CEO of Under Armour, to take advantage of the opportunity zone program for his development in Baltimore.

Community groups in Michigan have criticized the selection process, contending it favored wealthier areas that are already seeing redevelopment at the expense of more impoverished areas of Detroit. Of the 10 most impoverished areas in the city that the governor could have picked, only two made the cut. Of the 10 least impoverished areas, six were picked. Those include downtown tracts in which Gilbert has substantial investments.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder, who made the ultimate selections last year, declined to comment.

In an email, a spokesperson for the city of Detroit said its recommendations centered on areas where investors could make a return. “The City recommended the eligible areas where it believed developers were most likely to find profitable investments. To do anything else would have been pointless under the opportunity zone law.”

Jeff Ernsthausen is a data reporter at ProPublica. Contact him at jeff.ernsthausen@propublica.org.

Justin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. Contact him at justin@propublica.org or via Signal at (774) 826-6240.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism for use by other media outlets. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D) Detroit/Official website photo

CONGRESSWOMAN RASHIDA TLAIB ASKS FOR INVESTIGATION ON OPPORTUNITY ZONES 

 Rep. Tlaib Request Comes After Findings Of Billionaire Involvement In Selection Of Opp. Zones

November 7, 2019

Press Release

DETROIT – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) sent a letter to the chairmen of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, and the Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to request they hold investigative hearings into whether political campaign contributions influenced the designation of opportunity zones in her district and across the country.

Opportunity zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 supposedly to encourage new investments in poor areas by providing tax breaks to investors.

The request comes after a ProPublica article published in October showed that opportunity zones were created in areas that did not meet the legal criteria, at least in part thanks to lobbying by billionaire developers and political donors. For example, an opportunity zone in downtown Detroit did not meet the poverty requirement to be designated an opportunity zone and is in an area into which billionaire Dan Gilbert has poured billions for real estate. Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans company also donated $750,000 to President Trump’s inaugural fund, and the ProPublica article details Quicken lobbyists interacting with city, state, and federal officials in pursuit of an opportunity zone designation.

“This is yet another example of how corporate greed and the influence of billionaires have infected our government like a disease,” said Rep. Tlaib. “Residents in my district have witnessed time and time again how the desires of wealthy individuals are put before their needs—enough is enough. This is not how our government, or our democracy should work. We must take action to uncover the truth.” 

ProPublica’s reporting also found unqualified census tracts designated as opportunity zones in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Oklahoma. In Baltimore, for example, an opportunity zone was designated in an area where billionaire Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank and Goldman Sachs plan heavy investments, despite that area not meeting poverty requirements and only being designated an opportunity zone on a technicality after developer lobbying efforts.

“Public trust in our federal government is eroded when the rules are applied unevenly and seem to reward the wealthiest and best connected amongst us,” said Rep. Tlaib in the letter. “It appears that a tax program supposedly designed to benefit the poorest amongst us is now being used to reward political donors and wealthy investors.

The letter was sent to Chairman Richard Neal (Committee on Ways and Means), Chairman Al Green (Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation), and Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (Economic and Consumer Policy). It can be viewed here.

Related stories:

https://www.businessinsider.com/dan-gilbert-detroit-properties-bedrock-map-2018-8

https://www.freep.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2019/09/06/dan-gilbert-bedrock-projects/2207973001/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2015/04/24/u-s-sues-dan-gilberts-quicken-loans-over-mortgage-fraud-one-cause-of-detroit-blight/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/04/04/do-wayne-co-officials-speak-with-forked-tongue-oppose-gilbertevans-criminal-justice-ctr-april-5/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/09/16/no-to-kid-rock-gilbert-illitches-duggan-white-supremacy-take-back Detroit/

http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/12205/dan_gilbert_leads_massive_brush_park_development_in_detroit

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/dan-gilbert-suffers-stroke-his-net-worth-family-companies-owned/ar-AAC2wV5


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DARRELL EWING, DERRICO SEARCY WIN NEW TRIAL IN MURDER CASE AFTER NEARLY TWO DECADES

Derrico Searcy (l at defendant table) and Darrell Ewing (r) listen as Judge Michael Hathaway outlines opinion on hearing and orders a new trial for both

Some of the many supporters who cheered Judge Hathaway’s ruling for a new trial Oct. 24, 2019.

Judge Michael Hathaway gives order Oct. 24 after evidentiary hearing

 Ruling not only due to trial jury’s illegal use of internet, but also to lack of “overwhelming evidence of guilt”

 Prosecution says they plan to file application for leave to appeal, meeting of lawyers with judge set for Nov. 22 

Ewing, Searcy remain in MDOC pending further developments

 By Diane Bukowski

 October 27, 2019

Defendants Derrico Searcy and Darrell Ewing listen to testimony of former jurors Aug. 26, 2019.

DETROIT – A courtroom packed with family members and friends of Darrell Ewing and Derrico Searcy erupted in cries of joy Oct. 24 as Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway ordered a new trial for the two young men in a murder case for which they have spent nearly two decades in prison.

Judge Hathaway’s order capped an evidentiary hearing held on the trial jury’s use of Facebook and other gang-related internet research during their deliberations. U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood ordered the hearing after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court partially struck down her original order for a new trial.

Ewing and Searcy were convicted of murdering J.B. Watson Dec. 29, 2009, in an allegedly gang-related shooting at Harper and Van Dyke. They have been in prison since 2010. Afterward, another prisoner, Tyree Washington, came forward repeatedly to declare under oath that he, not Ewing and Searcy, committed the murder, but it was the juror misconduct that led to Judge Hood’s original order for a new trial.

Former Juror Kathleen Byrnes

Hathaway said regarding his assessment of the hearing, “. . .there was extraneous evidence that came into the deliberative process that was outcome determinative,” Hathaway declared. “It changed the vote of at least one juror.”

That juror was Kathleen Byrnes, who gave powerful, moving testimony during the evidentiary hearing about changing her vote during the 2010 trial. Weeping, she said she has felt that she did something terrible ever since.

Hathaway continued, “I am also obligated to observe under the Budzyn case whether or not the evidence of guilt was otherwise overwhelming . . . The trial evidence in this case was certainly not what we would call overwhelming. There was an identification made by a witness who claims to have seen the defendant through a side rear view mirror while he was crouching down, which is virtually impossible to imagine. There was a lot of other circumstantial evidence that still didn’t lead up to a case where the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. Then of course you had the statement against penal interest that came in where [Tyree] Washington supposedly confessed to the crime, so it wasn’t an ironclad case.”

Hathaway said he was therefore granting both defendants a new trial, issuing an order but not a written opinion. He sent both back to the Michigan Department of Corrections pending whether the prosecution files an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Appeals Court within a 28-day limit. AP     said they will definitely do so. Hathaway set a date of Nov. 22 for the attorneys and himself to confer on the status

Phillip Comorski, attorney for Ewing, shown in video above, said he felt the defense is now “in the driver’s seat.” He said he believed Judge Hathaway had thoroughly reviewed all the testimony from the hearing as well as transcripts from the trial and rendered a fair ruling. He added that they would deal with any appeal by the defense. Many have wondered how the prosecutor’s office would handle any new trial, since Tyree Washington, who confessed multiple times to the murder of J.B. Watson, is available to testify in person, which he did not do at the original trial.

Family members of Darrell Ewing, including his mother Sonya Dodson, wept with happiness in each others arms in the hallway after Judge Hathaway’s ruling. 

Related stories: 

EWING, SEARCY HEARING ON JURY USE OF INTERNET RESEARCH ON GANGS IN 2010 TRIAL TO CONTINUE OCT. 4

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/08/27/juror-in-2010-ewingsearcy-murder-trial-verdict-tainted-by-jurys-gang-related-internet-research/ 

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/02/14/sixth-circuit-orders-evidentiary-hearing-instead-of-new-trial-in-darrell-ewings-2010-murder-conviction/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/11/27/fed-judge-strikes-down-darrell-ewing-conviction-due-to-jury-discussion-of-gang-social-media/

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Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono by folks on extremely limited incomes, going. We are among the few newspapers that covers cases such as that of Ewing and Searcy, cases which affect those who would otherwise receive no coverage. Black youth across Detroit and the U.S. continue to be funneled into the prisons, virtually anonymously, by an injustice system that should force this country to bow its head in shame.

Charles Lewis, now free after 42 years in prison since 17.

Recently, VOD played a large role in freeing juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, running 46 stories on his case including evidence pointing to his innocence, after he spent 42 years in prison. VOD focuses strongly on  the issue of racist mass incarceration in the United States, which has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of it’s incarcerated population.

Among ongoing expenses are quarterly web host charges of $350, costs for investigative fees, court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, P.O. Box, etc. Please, if you can:

DONATE TO VOD at

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Thank you to all our faithful readers!

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TRUTH REALLY UNVEILED: THE HEALING; TWO WOMEN WHO ROSE ABOVE ADVERSITY

Two women tell how they overcame abuse and established bright futures: Kia Faison and Erica Lynn Gillis

“Strike 3” Stage Play  Sat. Oct. 26, 2pm &7 pm, Sun. Oct. 27  “Strike 3 is not just about me – it is about the maltreatment of all Black and Brown people in this country at the hands of a corrupt system, and understanding that nothing will change until we decide to fight back!” – Kia Faison

Erica Lynn Gillis: “7 Techniques of Healing”

By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Staff Writer

This Voice of Detroit exclusive two-part article covers the constant pain and agony many women face after being taken complete advantage of by an overpowering male bent on causing absolute terror on his victims. It features two amazing women who solidifies what a pillar of strength looks like by how well they pushed beyond the harm of their past encounters by embracing techniques in the healing process.

Kia Faison, an author and playwright, a strong and courageous woman was brave enough to speak her truths by revealing to the world her horrendous experiences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and physical, mental and emotional abuse. In an effort to begin the healing process Kia knew she would first need to face, embrace, and express herself in order to erase the pain, torment and shame she felt by the hands of her abuser. In this article you’ll read the story of this remarkable woman who finally had enough of being taken advantage of by a man who only seen her as something to be used and abused.

The objectification of women in a negative paradigm has been going on in our society for centuries. More and more females are being subjected to unwanted physical and sexual abuse at the hands of strangers, their male companions, and sometimes their own family members contribute to this madness. For instance, a child’s own father repeatedly rapes her from the age of 7, till she becomes a teenager. Then learns what she’s experienced is all wrong, and shouldn’t have been happening. Kia knows all too well what that sort of experience looks like, because her daughter was violently molested by the same individual who was physically abusive towards her. 

Kia Faison (l) with son, daughters at The Fist in downtown Detroit, 2018.

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KIA FAISON, A CRIME SURVIVOR WHO HAD ENOUGH AND MADE IT OUT:

Q – RICARDO: WHAT WAS YOUR COPING MECHANISM DURING THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP(S)?

A – KIA: In the beginning I really didn’t have a way to cope with it; I just kind of absorbed the situation and took it for what it was. There came a point to where I realized it wasn’t going to change regardless to how many good days we had. At that point I began to hum “The sun will come out tomorrow” from the movie Annie. Doing that seemed to take me to another place mentally.

Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOU PULL YOUR STRENGTH FROM TO WALK AWAY AND NOT LOOK BACK?

A – KIA: Well, I actually went back after the first separation. I would do anything for my children, regardless of the affect my actions would have on me. I thought going back to be a family would make them happy. My children brought he and I back together, but also made me walk away for good. I felt like I could take anything that came my way, but you don’t mess with my children. The moment he abused my daughter was the final straw. In my eyes his choices were death or prison and I knew to him being back in prison was like death, so that’s where I sent him.

Q – RICARDO: HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD A STRONG FAITH IN THE CREATOR?

Maori carved painting of woman.

A – KIA: This is sort of a long story, but I’ll try to make it short lol. As a teenager, I knew there was something more powerful than man, but I also didn’t believe in anything I couldn’t see. When I got older, because I didn’t have a real understanding of spirituality or religion for that matter I drifted to the religious side because that is what was around me. I tried all kinds of churches; Black, White, big, small, different states and I always ran into the same problem. They were either greedy or the Pastors were perverts.

Outside of the church, I still tried to do the whole religion/Jesus thing, but there were always things that just didn’t sit right, why can’t I ask questions? Why is he clearly Black in your bible, but White everywhere else? Why is it that every living organism comes from the female, but you teach the Holy Trinity is two men and a spirit? I could never get these main questions answered, so I felt that wasn’t the way for me. Finally, information began to fall in my lap sort to speak. More spiritual people started entering my life feeding me information, I started reading different books and coming across different videos and interviews about spirituality, about My history, My ancestors and this information made all the sense in the world. So, to answer your question, I always knew there was something out here protecting me because I’m still here even after everything I’ve been through, but it took a long time to get to the place I am spiritually.

Q – RICARDO: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN EXPERIENCING THE SAME ABUSE YOU ONCE FACED?

A – KIA: My advice to anyone in an abusive situation is, unfortunately no one can force or convince you to leave, you have to be ready. In the meantime, find a way to separate yourself from the situation mentally; think of happy memories, sing/hum your favorite song, mediate on anything to take yourself away, even if for a moment. Doing this will help keep you sane. Find someone you can talk to, someone you can trust, someone who will not judge, but allow you to vent and then wait patiently for the call to let them know to come get you because you’ve finally found the courage to walk away for good.

Q – RICARDO: DO YOU FIND SOLACE IN WRITING ABOUT PAST ENCOUNTERS AND CHALLENGES?

A – KIA: Most of my writing comes from a painful place. I am a very private person (this is the first time I’ve spoken openly to this extent) so, instead of sitting down with someone and telling my whole story it comes out in my writing and there is no greater feeling than knowing my work is admired by not just family and friends, but strangers as well. Writing is extremely therapeutic.

Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM IN WRITING AND SHARING YOUR STORY?

A – KIA: I find it very difficult to write on demand, so if I have a new project it is more than likely because I just went through something or seen something that touched me.

 Q – RICARDO: AS A PLAYWRIGHT WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IMPROVISATION AND CREATING THEMES?

A – KIA: I think however it comes out ride with it and figure out the purpose and story later. Sometimes an image, or a title, or line may come to me and I have no idea what it is, or where its going, but eventually it turns into something purposeful, so I embrace whatever comes, how it comes.

Q – RICARDO: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN HOW HAS THEIR PRESENCE SOLIDIFIED YOUR AMBITION?

A – KIA: My children are my rock and I know they watch everything I do. Because of that I know I cannot tell them to follow their dreams, live in their purpose, or do what makes them happy, if I’m not doing it myself.

Q – RICARDO: IF YOU COULD PLANT SEEDS OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD WHAT WOULD THOSE HOPES BE LIKE 100 YEARS FROM NOW?

A – KIA: Unity, peace, love, strength & overstanding who they are and where they came from.

Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN AND GIRLS TO COME FORWARD AND SPEAK THEIR TRUTHS BY SHARING THEIR STORIES OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE THEY’VE EXPERIENCED?

A – KIA: I would definitely encourage anyone who have experience abuse to let it out whether writing about it, talking about it, finding some creative outlet, anything to release the pain. Allowing the pain to remain built up is like hot lava in a contained environment, some point its going to explode. Find your strength and regain control of your life.

Q – RICARDO: DO YOU REGRET ANY DECISIONS YOU’VE MADE BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER THE TOXIC RELATIONSHIP?

A – KIA: I used to hate myself for allowing this person to have so much control over my life. I play certain moments back in my mind, seeing the signs, seeing the opportunities to leave, seeing myself fall apart and wondering how did I get here. Going through the what ifs, but what I’ve learned is, I would not be who I am today, if I had not gone through what I’ve gone through. I would not have recognized my strength, I would not have unlocked the power of my words, I would not have positioned myself in a way that would have such an impact on the lives of others and a monster would still be walking the streets preying on women and young girls. I do not regret my decisions, however, I do wish the people who took this journey with me did not have to feel the pain that came with it.

Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU MIND SHARING ABOUT YOUR ASPIRATIONS IN PLAYWRITING AND A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PLAYS, AND HOW THAT CRAFT HAS HELPED YOU MOVE FORWARD?

Interim House library; the facility has been completely renovated.

A- KIA: I never set out to be a playwright. I used to be a volunteer at the YWCA’s admin office downtown. One day I was approached by a coworker with the idea of helping her write a play to help raise money for their Interim House (a shelter for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors). I had never written or even thought about writing a play before, but I figured “how hard could it be.” I did some research and started writing, by the end I had written majority of the script – not trying to take over, but I felt in tune with the process. After that play the ideas kept coming. I do not find topics to write about, they find me! The first play was entitled “A Mere Image” (a play about domestic violence/sexual assault), next was “Undesirable Pleasures” (a play about addiction), then “Secrets Untold” (a play about a dysfunctional family and a manipulative outsider).

All these plays, although I didn’t see the connection while writing, in some way mirrored my personal life, but this current piece, “Strike 3” is deliberate. Strike 3 is not just about me – it is about the maltreatment of all Black and Brown people in this country at the hands of a corrupt system, and understanding that nothing will change until we decide to fight back! Writing has always been my passion and now I realize it is my purpose. Whether it is a poem or play, everything I do has a meaning behind it. The universe guides my words, and I would like to continue to inspire others with my work, while at the same time heal myself as writing is my therapy.

RICARDO: So many women and young girls have gone through horrendous and traumatic experiences of being victimized in domestic violence situations, sexual assaults, and physical, mental and emotional abuse, even well known celebrities and others have been physically abused and sexually assaulted, the likes of Mary J. Blige, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Oprah Winfrey, Rihana, Toni Braxton, and countless others all have experienced an ordeal where they were either abused or sexually assaulted. Many of the women and young girls who are known and less known share something in common, they all have experienced an unwanted victimization.

This writer has interviewed many people whose stories are impactful, but haven’t until now, found one to be as compelling and powerful as that of Kia Faison’s. Here we have a woman who endured physical, mental and emotional abuse for years, only to come out victoriously triumphant over her abuser and situation. It goes to show how one can overcome insurmountable challenges and still hold their head high with dignity. Kia is a sterling example of someone who experienced an abusive situation and yet began a healing process by sharing her story and TRUTH, (Truth Really Unveiled The Healing) in an effort to help others who have went through a similar storm. Her coping mechanism, in part, can be attributed to how she embraced the art of written expression.

In her new book “Expressions of an Empress: Within the Heart of a Warrior” she writes – “Any journey traveled where there are lessons learned is never a wasted trip… Always remember, you are worth saving, you are worth protecting, you are worth more…” — Kia Faison

It’s absolutely amazing how our women have seemingly overcome the madness of degradation, abuse, neglect, trauma and sexual assault, yet still triumph over those difficult moments and find so much purpose inside of themselves.

In reading her book, I learned so much about the power of words, they (words) can create any kind of situation both good or bad. Kia utilized her hidden power and defeated a monster who abused her and her daughter. Kia is a phenomenal playwright and has appeared in at least three plays so far, with her sights on many other productions and projects. The upcoming play ‘Strike 3’ at The International Institute, which Kia is a part of, is sure to have people on the edge of their seats. Among the themes that stands out to me in ‘Strike 3’ is, “No longer accepting the unacceptable.” These sort of outlets have given Kia an avenue to travel further on her journey to not only help herself fully heal, but provide a space for others in their quest for healing as well.

Another notable quote I read in her book is: “If you never step out of the shadows to spread your wings you will never know how high you can soar.” — Kia Faison Furthermore, this writer usually ends articles with his final note, but in this exclusive interview he is giving the final word to the interviewee, Ms. Faison. Kia’s final thought and message to anyone in an abusive situation… “You are not alone, you don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed, stand strong and most importantly, [Survive] by any means necessary! The only “victims” are those who didn’t make it out… don’t let the bullies and the cowards win.”

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TRUTH REALLY UNVEILED: The Healing – Part Two ERICA LYNN GILLIS

By Ricardo Ferrell 

VOD Staff Writer

VOD: Part two of this exclusive article covers the amazing Erica Lynn Gillis, another survivor who embraced healing techniques in dealing with the abuse she faced, coming soon!!

In this part two of the TRUTH series, I interviewed Erica Lynn Gillis, an author, motivational speaker, podcast host and transformational coach, as she shared with me her journey through a dark place indicative of being physically tormented and disregarded as a human being. Erica also shared the following: “After coming out of a place of being stuck and struggling all these years, I’ve come to a point where I was tired of being broke, battered and abused. This is when God started turning things around.”

Excerpt from her book; 7 Techniques of Healing: “Erica knows all too well the effects of not knowing your value. Her life was spiraling out of control until she made the decision to get help. In this book she shares some of her personal experiences with abuse and abandonment.”

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW W/ERICA LYNN, A SURVIVOR WHO MADE IT OUT AND DIDN’T LOOK BACK:

Q – RICARDO: WHAT WAS YOUR COPING MECHANISM WHEN YOU WERE IN THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP?

A – ERICA: The coping mechanism I used when I was in my abusive relationship came in different parts, one was when I wasn’t pregnant, I stayed high on marijuana and alcohol. I was such a young girl, I really didn’t know any better. I just knew I didn’t want to be a statistic and have my children grow up without a father like I did. I sacrificed myself for my children.

Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOU PULL YOUR STRENGTH FROM TO WALK AWAY AND NOT LOOK BACK?

A – ERICA: My strength came when I turned 28. I woke up one day and it was like a light bulb flashed on. You see, I was working 3 jobs at the time to make sure I covered my family financially, my ex-husband and I were sleeping in the basement on 2 mattresses on the floor in my sister’s house and the kids shared rooms with her kids. I remember being so emotionally drained that day. He had come from working a temp job and set my keys on the dresser and walked away. Later on in the day he had come for the keys and they were gone. We looked all over for those keys and could not find them. He started cursing and getting angry about not finding the keys. Then all of a sudden the house was quiet and my womanly intuition said go outside. When I went outside, he had his friend jack up the car, burst open the steering column and put a screwdriver inside so he could drive to work. I remember standing in the middle of the street jumping up & down crying and yelling asking him why didn’t he ask me, it was my car. Why would your brain tell you to do something like this and destroy my property, which is all I have to make it through?

What happened next, is what changed my mind forever. I told him he had to go pack his stuff and leave my sister’s house. I had had enough, it is my responsibility to make sure these children have a chance in life. He sat me down on the bed and for four hours he poked me in the middle of my forehead like I was his pet. Telling me how much he loved me, then in the next breath degrading me and treating me like I was nothing. Then four hours later after crying my eyes out, I asked him, “Are you done?” He said, “Yes, are we going to stay together?” I dried my tears and took a deep breath and told him to get the hell out.

To answer your question my strength came from wanting the possibility of giving my kids a fighting chance to be something in life.

Q – RICARDO: HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD STRONG FAITH IN THE LORD?

A – ERICA: Although I was raised in church and had faith as a young child after I got older and men started tearing me apart I walked away from the church and my faith in God.

Q – RICARDO: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN THAT MAY EXPERIENCE THE SAME ABUSE THAT YOU ONCE FACED?

A – ERICA: The advice I would give a young woman that experienced the same abuse that I once faced is don’t ignore the signs when they first show up in the relationship. Don’t bury yourself in your own mind because you will wake up one day and find that you don’t really exist. The most important thing to know is that there is sun at the end of the rainbow. Although things might be challenging now God looks over all of us and you will come through this and look back not to dwell, but to be a blessing for someone else.

Q – RICARDO: DO YOU FIND SOLACE IN WRITING ABOUT YOUR PAST ENCOUNTERS AND CHALLENGES?

A – ERICA: Yes, I find solace in writing about my encounters and challenges of my past because not only did it allow me to heal, but the feeling I received when men and women reach out to me to tell me how my book has blessed and inspired them.

Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM IN WRITING 7 TECHNIQUES OF HEALING?

A – ERICA: My inspiration in writing 7 Techniques of Healing first came from a concept of finding something to write about. I kept praying and praying and was working on myself and one morning I woke up and God gave me the word Healing. After writing it down, I took each letter and made a word out of it. H-Heal, E-Educate, A-Action, L-Learn, I-Inspire, N-Need, G-Growth. It was perfect. These are the steps I went through to get my own healing, now it is time to help all those I can to get their healing to. 

Q – RICARDO: AS HOST OF 1 STEP BEYOND U PODCAST, WHAT TOPICS DO YOU DISCUSS?

A – ERICA: The topics I discuss started from me interviewing different guests on my show during the first season with titles such as: Living in Fear in Your Own Mind; Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There; Getting Fit and Learning Better Eating Habits; Blueprint for Success; and Getting God Involved – just to name a few. Now my subjects are: How to Find Your Balance, The Element of Elimination, Watch Your Words and I recently completed a 3 part series on Setting Your Goals. My podcast is: 1 Step Beyond U on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/1stepbeyonduEricaLynn/ and it play on my YouTube channel titled Erica Lynn Gilllis.www.youtube.com/channel/UCHERHLXmYOropS8LY96utVVg. Instagram @1stepbeyondu.

Q – RICARDO: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTER?

A – ERICA: I have three children, a 23 year-old son that lives in Taiwan, 21 year-old daughter that also lives in Taiwan, and 18 year-old son that lives here in the states. My children are all gifted and talented in music and the arts. It was a bit difficult at first to have three children that sing, dance, rap, make music, and model, they drove me nuts. If you know anything about creative children, you have to be a parent that thinks outside-the-box to allow their creativity to flow. My oldest son Q’lante has a full four- year scholarship to Taiwan University; he also is a rapper and make and mixes beats, he is a force to be reckoned with. His passion and hobby is b-boy dancing. My daughter Deja is a model, a singer, an actress, an excellent writer, and a blogger. She originally went to Taiwan first on a 4 year scholarship to college because she speaks fluent Chinese. My son Jalen is a professional skater, he recently came in first place in a big competition and was named champion.

Q – RICARDO: IF YOU COULD PLANT SEEDS OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD – WHAT WOULD THOSE HOPES BE LIKE 100 YEARS FROM NOW?

A – ERICA: They would look like a place of happiness and forgiveness. Sometimes in order for God to move you to another level you have to forgive yourself first in order to forgive someone else. When that is done, a place of peace, happiness and joy will take over your world. I heard a pastor once say, joy will come in the morning, things may not seem like they will change in your favor, but as long as you will have faith, things will change and your joy will come in the morning.

Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN & GIRLS TO SPEAK THEIR TRUTHS BY SHARING STORIES OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE THEY’VE EXPERIENCED?

A – ERICA: Yes, absolutely, I would definitely encourage more women and girls to speak their truth by sharing stories of physical, mental and emotional abuse because when you hold it in, you hold yourself in bondage. Bondage to the nightmares, bondage to the pain and negative thoughts. When you open up not only do you become free, but you allow someone else to walk you during your time or healing. When I shared a secret with my sister Darlene at 43 years of age, she said, “First of all, I’m sorry that happened to you, but I want you to know you are no longer alone and I will walk with you.” You see, the devil wants you isolated, this is where he can attack your mind the most, but when you open up you allow God to send his people to bless and help heal you, this is when the unity begins.

Erica’s healing started the moment she came to the realization that she had to do more than sit around and wait for her pain and abuse to go away. She connected to the core essence of her healing by identifying and becoming the best version of herself. One particular technique she utilized was deep concentrated breathing exercises, where she would inhale & exhale and say to herself, “I forgive myself” or “I forgive the other person.” This proved to be invaluable, in that, she found power in forgiveness, which catapulted her into a brand new space of letting go of the pain that had held her captive for so long. In her pursuit to find herself, Erica began a new journey inclusive of changing her thinking, as well as an adaptation to a new attitude about life. What she discovered was that her behavior started to change as she embraced the renewed way of thinking. She soon realized that her dependency on drugs & alcohol started to fade away and she had now stepped into her healing process.

Quoting something Erica wrote in 7 Techniques of Healing, which caught my attention and made perfectly good sense; “On this journey of self-discovery, you will learn a lot about yourself and when you’re able to stand in your truth, own it and move on, then you would have reached another level.” This is so true and if anyone out there is struggling to heal from their pain, agony, abuse and self-destruction – you only need to search within yourself to find the answers and solutions to your problems. Erica mentions the road to discovery is the road you seek. Do not stop when the lesson gets hard and you feel like balling up, and shutting down and crying. It’s okay to cry according to Erica Lynn, “But do not let your tears consume you and stop you from learning your lesson. Avoid living in your fears, live past them. I think that is such a powerful statement because all too often, we let fear stop us, we let fear dictate to us that we cannot go forth and be one of God’s greatest creations,” says Erica.

In the Action part of the healing technique, Erica writes: “Have you ever met someone that says they want to lose fifty or one hundred pounds? But, every day, you see them smoking, partying, drinking, and catching the munchies in the mental daze of life. This person lacks self-control, using the kids as an excuse to cook unhealthy fatty foods. They barely exercise since working out and getting high at the same time don’t quite mix. And people would often remind this person of the enormous potential they have and that they have to realize it for themselves.”

“That person was me until I began to take action in my life and change all the things that had been holding me back for years, which quite frankly was myself,” says Erica. We must applaud women like Erica Lynn Gillis and Kia Faison because despite their past encounters and challenges in dealing with abusive relationships replete with domestic abuse and sexual assault, coupled with physical, mental and emotional abuse, they are still standing and have survived some of the worse situations a human being can endure. Erica Lynn is CEO of 1 Step Beyond U, LLC and uses that platform to allow people to air their concerns and not be judged for sharing intricate and sensitive aspects of their lives.

Erica shared how it was when she unveiled the real truth was she able to begin her healing. Among the lessons/exercises you’ll find in 7 Techniques of Healing is in the Educate/Empower section, where the author (Erica Lynn) lays out some steps for those seeking to change their situation as follows.

“I want you to write down three situations or things that have held you back. These situations or things have most likely held you back in life and are what you need healing from. It could be something obstructing your pathway to the next level in your career. It could be a family situation that you cannot dust off your shoulder. Whatever it is, write it down. This is your first step towards education and empowerment. You have made an agreement with yourself that it is time to let go of what is stopping you and lay it in God’s hand.” — Erica Lynn

Another message in her book that resonated and caught my attention towards the end was when Erica referenced my man Shawn Carter, writing, “In the words of rapper, Jay-Z, ‘Gon’ dust your shoulders off,’ and move on. Move into that level of growth that when someone sees you they say, “something is different about you, I just can’t put my finger on it.”

Writer’s final note, let me say this, Erica, you have shown all of us who have read your story and followed your journey that we too have the power to change our lives for the better and we definitely can move one step beyond ourselves and embrace our true purpose in life. Thank you for sharing your story with me and everyone here at Voice of Detroit. I would also like to extend a special shout out to your best friend since the sixth grade, Novah Jackson for her assistance in this interview with the electronic messaging.

ERICA LYNN; KEEP HEALING, YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE DEPENDS ON IT!!

 

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CHARLES LEWIS IS FREE! INNOCENT JUV. LIFER RELEASED OCT. 17 AFTER 42 YRS; WILL RESUME MUSICAL CAREER

Charles Lewis, in prison 42 years for a crime he did not commit, stands proudly Oct.17 to hear that he is now a free man, as Judge Qiana Lillard reads her decision on his juvenile lifer case. With the 37-60 year sentence, and his prison good time, he was released the following day. With him are (l to r) defense investigator Michael Lynch, mitigation expert Jessica Carrier, defense attorney Sanford Schulman.

LEWIS RE-SENTENCED TO 37-60 YRS; WALKS OUT OF PRISON NEXT DAY

Courageous decision by Judge Lillard in face of pros. request for 50-100 yrs.

Joyous mother Rosie Lewis: “God shined his light!”

Polygraph expert J. P. Carey (former criminal investigator) says conflicting police reports led him to believe Lewis likely innocent, though not yet exonerated

“When I was sentenced in that court at 17, I vowed to learn the law to win my freedom;” — Lewis, who helped many others as jail-house lawyer

Now meeting with  friends to make plans to resume musical career; as expert musician he organized, played in prison bands across Michigan

By Diane Bukowski

October 20, 2017

Atty. Kenneth Cockrel, Sr.

Judge Joseph Maher

DETROIT–In November, 1977, skilled young Black musician, student, and family caretaker Charles Lewis, 17, stood before Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher, who the late attorney Kenneth Cockrel Sr. termed a virulent racist, to hear that he would spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he and eyewitnesses swore he did not commit.

On October 17, 2019, 42 years later, he and his legal team led by defense attorney Sanford Schulman stood before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard. She told Lewis he is now a free man, resentenced to 37-60 years, under U.S. Supreme Court rulings banning mandatory juvenile life without parole. His good time credits, restored to Michigan juvenile lifers as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Michigan ACLU, led to his immediate release from the Macomb Correctional Facility the following day, no strings attached.

Above: Judge Lillard announces 37-60 year resentencing after thoroughly reading file documents; cites inhuman treatment of Lewis in prison, other discrepancies; role Miller v. Alabama factors played in childhood

It was a courageous ruling by Judge Lillard, in particular because Lewis was convicted of killing off-duty police officer Gerald Sypitkowski (despite testimony by the officer’s partner and eyewitnesses who identified a different perpetrator). Judge Lillard paged through reams of documentation as she gave her ruling. It included a prison disciplinary record cited by the prosecution, which defense witness Michael Stapleton, an MDOC expert, said was typical of youth thrown into a hostile environment. Stapleton said Lewis is no threat to society. She condemned in particular a 1989 incident where officials put Lewis in the hole because he refused to kneel and spread his cheeks for no reason.

She also noted defense investigator Michael Lynch’s work, derived from 1970’s newspaper articles describing attacks on Black students whose families, like that of Lewis, had just moved into a mainly-white enclave on the city’s northeast aide.  Lynch located many of Lewis former neighbors, including Michael ‘Mo’ Hollis, a childhood friend who went on to a prominent musical career and is now assisting Lewis to resume his own.

 Oralandar Brand-Williams

ABOVE: Channel 4’s Koco McAboy interviewed Lewis and his attorney Sanford Schulman the morning of his release. Both Channel 4 and Detroit News reporter Oralandar Brand-Williams have faithfully covered Lewis’ 4 year struggle, as shown in Channel 4’s multiple videos from hearings through those years.  See Brand-Williams article linked  below story.

Lynch also unearthed the true origins of the neighborhood youth group police and media claimed Lewis belonged to, the “Kilbourne Killers,” a/k/a the “K.K. Capones.” One neighbor termed it a self-defense “anti-racist alliance” and others said it was NOT a gang. Lewis’ stepfather Herbert Lewis said that his family thought they were moving into a better neighborhood, but it turned out they had moved into a “powder keg.”

Polygraph examiner/ investigator J.Paul Carey:
Lewis’ exams inconclusive due to heart condition, length of incarceration; but inconsistent DPD records show Lewis likely innocent.

Defense attorney Schulman’s team also included mitigation expert Jessica Carrier, forensic polygraph examiner/former police investigator J.P. Carey, and psychiatrists Dr. Colin King and Dr. Daniel Keating. Atty. Schulman compiled the research into a stunning 81 page sentencing memorandum at 

The MDOC evidently has not changed much since the 1989 incident where Lewis was sent to the hole for refusing to kneel and spread. 

“They put me in the hole when I got back to Macomb Correctional Facility,” Lewis told VOD, despite the fact he was a free man at that point. He spent the night in a basement cell with a mattress and a blanket waiting to be processed out. His sister picked him up early the next morning and took him home.

“Tomorrow I plan to be on a G-5 Lear Jet on my way to Paris,” Lewis added with a chuckle, joking but seriously referring to his plans to resume his musical career,

Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis, who has fought for her son’s freedom ever since he was jailed, told VOD, “I’m feeling like God has shined on me, he’s just got the spotlight on me. It’s real, my son is alive, he’s well and he’s free. God made him, he didn’t make him to put his hand to no bullets to kill anybody. Lamont is humble, he is thankful.”

Rosie Lewis (center), mother of Charles Lewis and his supporters after Oct. 13, 2017 hearing.

Lewis’ family always called him by his middle name “Lamont,” which was his first name on his original birth certificate as Lamont Hilyard. He was later adopted by his stepfather Herbert Lewis.

Mrs. Lewis reported that her son spent the weekend with his two young grand-nieces, giving them one of his guitars and teaching them how to play it.

“They just love their uncle,” Mrs. Lewis rejoiced. She said he also spent time with his nephew “T.J.,” (Terrence Lewis) who helped Mrs. Lewis move to her daughter’s out-of-state home, where she is now living due to her medical needs. The Facebook video below was posted by T.J, showing Rosie and Herbert Lewis with Charles Lamont (right), sister Stephanie (left of Lamont), and baby Wendy Lewis. 

During his decades of incarceration, Lewis, the oldest of five siblings who cared for them while his parents worked, always remembered their birthdays and those of his nieces and nephews, making sure to call each on their day. He also provided advice and guidance to them all.

Posted by Terrence Lewis on Friday, October 18, 2019

The video above has song “I’m coming home” playing in the background. To hear video, start it, then click on the F (Facebook) icon.

Lewis has proposed joining his mother there for some time to give her joy in her remaining years.

Everyone VOD has spoken to regarding Lewis’ musical talents have said they are “world-class,” from a guard at Macomb who plays the bass guitar to prisoners who have heard him perform across Michigan, playing keyboards, guitar and numerous other instruments, writing his own music, and organizing concerts for prison bands. Lewis also sent a copy of a CD of his music, compiled by his brother David, to Judge Lillard. Judge Lillard expressed her appreciation of the skilled music she heard.

Michael Hollis, a childhood friend who went on to a successful musical career of his own, told defense investigators, “It makes me cry to think of my best friend who is every bit as good as I, maybe better, but for a twist of fate ended up in such a different place.”

The outline of this sketch was drawn in 1976 by a DPD evidence technician. Referencing testimony at second trial, VOD has added a red line with a white Lincoln Mark IV showing the path of that car. Also a green line showing route juveniles said they took at scene, stating Officer Sypitkowski was killed at bus stop to the right, where no forensic evidence found.
Sypitkowski’s partner and other eyewitnesses said they were directly west of Barrett outside Oty’s Bar when they said they saw gunfire from the Lincoln Mark IV and Sypitkowski fall, mortally wounded.

Lewis’ potentially brilliant musical career was cruelly cut short when he was falsely arrested Aug. 2, 1976 for the murder of off-duty police officer Gerald Sypitkowski. The killing occurred in a Detroit northeast side neighborhood rife with racist attacks on Black youths by white civilians and police officers opposing the integration of the previously all-white enclaves.

Defense investigator Michael Lynch thoroughly combed the neighborhood to get statements from residents still living there, and others who had moved. They identified the “Kilbourne Killers/KK. Capones, termed a “gang” by police and media, instead as an “anti-racist” self-defense alliance.

The initial joy juvenile lifers across the U.S. experienced when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Miller v. Alabama in 2012, outlawing mandatory juvenile life without parole, was also cut short. Over half of Michigan’s juvenile lifers, 63 percent, have not yet been released.

Lewis faced a singularly uphill battle since he was convicted of killing a white police officer, albeit an off-duty officer in civilian clothes, who had just left a bar and would not have been recognizable as a police officer.

Henry Montgomery being booked

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Montgomery v. Louisiana, which declared Miller retroactive. The case was that of Henry Montgomery, a 17-year-old Black youth accused of killing a white deputy sheriff also dressed in civilian clothes. Montgomery, now 70, was resentenced to life WITH parole but so far has twice been denied release by the state’s parole board.

Most parole boards base their decisions on the original crime, not evidence of rehabilitation,” according to a study in Outline magazine, “The False Hope of Parole.”

“A nationwide survey of parole boards found in 2008 that the top two factors they consider are ‘crime severity’ and ‘crime type,’ writes author Katie Rose Quandt. “Five of the top ten factors relate to the original crime, and just one — “offender institutional behavior” — has anything to do with rehabilitation.”

She adds later, “Black youths suspected of killing a white person . . .make up about 23 percent of juvenile murder arrests — and more than 42 percent of juveniles serving life without parole.”

AP Tom Dawson argues for Lewis to be resentenced to 50-100 years.

Lewis, however, will never have to face a parole board, an issue which caused AP Tom Dawson extreme dismay.

Assistant Prosecutor Tom Dawson, red-faced, argued for a sentence of 50-100 years which would have forced Lewis to face the parole board. Dawson claimed that the “benefits” of re-entry programs during that time would help Lewis adjust.

Dawson’s proposed sentence is not authorized under the state’s juvenile lifer resentencing statutes, which limit term of years sentences to 60 year maximums.

Lewis has been in the MDOC Re-Entry Unit at Macomb Correctional Facility since Nov. 2018, after it appeared that prosecution would agree to a term of years sentence. He has taken numerous classes, including the well-known “Chance for Life.” But the sentence Dawson recommended would have forced Lewis to face a parole board that likely would NEVER release him.

Supporters from the Islamic Mellanic Palace of the Rising Sun gather outside Lewis’ courtroom Oct. 18, 2019.

Supporters who came to the second day of Lewis’ re-sentencing said NOTHING is offered to prisoners who leave on parole. Some also were at a packed memorial Oct. 19 for Morris Martin, Sr., founder of the Islamic Mellanic Palace of the Rising Sun, who worked tirelessly with Lewis and others to assist newcomers to the MDOC, educating and advising them on their legal and human rights, and assisting them with filing pro se appeals.

Dozens of those former prisoners, many who like Lewis spent more than 40 years in the MDOC, spoke out passionately at the memorial on what they learned from Martin. The Mellanic Palace recognizes as its true founder Nat Turner, the famed kidnapped African who organized a rebellion of slaves in Southampton, VA in Aug. 1831.

Morris Martin

Martin passed away Oct. 5, 2019 after spending 48 years in prison, at the age of 69. He had been ill for some time, but continued fighting for his fellow prisoners, who said at the memorial that he woke up writing documents on his typewriter and went to bed the same way, while teaching numerous prisoners to become “jailhouse lawyers.”

Martin won many legal cases, including the noted Martin v. Department of Corrections, which said the rules of the MDOC had to be “promulgated,” meaning they had to be made known to all parties including prisoners.

Nat Turner led a famed slave rebellion on July 4, 1831, and was later hanged, drawn and quartered, along with many of his fellow rebels, for their heroic resistance. The rebellion called primarily  for the human right to education and literacy. Others won many of its demands later.

One day out of prison, Charles Lewis sat at Martin’s memorial, paying tribute to his mentor and comrade.

VOD HAS PLAYED A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN THE VICTORIOUS BATTLE TO FREE CHARLES LEWIS FOR THE LAST 4 YEARS, PUBLISHING AT LEAST 45 STORIES WHICH IT PROMULGATED TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA IN THE FORM OF PRESS RELEASES. THOSE RELATED STORIES ARE LINKED IN THE PREVIOUS ARTICLE AT http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/10/13/juv-lifer-charles-lewis-free-at-last-final-hearing-tues-oct-15-9am-judge-lillard-fmhj/

ORALANDAR BRAND-WILLIAMS DETROIT NEWS ARTICLE: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2019/10/17/judge-reduces-sentence-juvenile-lifer-cop-killing/4002541002/

OUR BELOVED BROTHER CHARLES LEWIS, WELCOME HOME TO YOUR BRIGHT FUTURE. MAY ALLAH GRANT YOU SUCCESS!!


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JUV. LIFER CHARLES LEWIS—FREE AT LAST? FINAL HEARING TUES. OCT. 15, 9AM, JUDGE LILLARD, FMHJ

Charles Lewis honed his prodigious musical skills throughout his years in prison, leading jazz, rock and rap bands, organizing concerts, playing and writing his own music. He hopes to revive his musical career on his release from 44 years in prison, unjustly convicted.

Final mitigation hearing after 3 ½ years Tues. Oct. 15 9 a.m—Judge Qiana Lillard, Rm. 502 FMHJ 

Defense says Lewis is not “the rare child” who is irredeemable, files a stunning 87 pp. brief including expert testimony and research 

Brief attests to extreme racist hostility that existed in Lewis’ neighborhood during his youth, Lewis’ efforts to succeed as student, musician in its face

By Diane Bukowski

Charles Lewis, now 60 yrs. old.

DETROIT – After 44 years of incarceration, and over 3 ½ years of juvenile lifer resentencing hearings, Charles Lewis may finally see his “light come shining” at his mitigation hearing Tues. Oct. 15 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Qiana Lillard.

He said he is focused on building a bright future for himself and his loved ones, including a promising, likely brilliant musical career that was brutally cut short when Detroit police arrested him Aug. 1, 1976 for the alleged murder of an off-duty police officer.

“I don’t have any hate in my heart toward anyone for what has happened,” Lewis told VOD. “In fact I am glad that the three teens who testified against me didn’t have to go through what I have gone through in prison, because it is very hard for ANYONE to survive in here.”

Lewis was convicted on the strength of the teens’ testimony, elicited under threat they would also be charged. But numerous eyewitnesses at the scene, including the officer’s partner, testified that they saw someone else shoot the officer. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas noted in a 2006 opinion that the teens’ version of the shooting was “a scientific impossibility,” and that none of the eyewitnesses said they saw a group of Black teens at the scene.

One of the witnesses expected to testify at the Oct. 15 hearing is Michael Hollis, Lewis’ childhood friend who has had a long musical career and even played in front of two sitting U.S. Presidents. He says in his witness statement that he did not know what had  happened to Lewis until his band played at one of the prisons where Lewis was incarcerated.

Hollis told defense investigators, “It makes me cry to think of my best friend who is every bit as good as I, maybe better, but for a twist of fate ended up in such a different place.”

Atty. Sanford Schulman

Lewis’ attorney Sanford Schulman filed a stunning, moving 87-page brief for this hearing, with affidavits from expert witnesses including a polygraph examiner, a psychiatrist, a mitigation expert, a sentencing expert, and others. They state emphatically that Lewis was not “the rare child” who deserves to die in prison, described in Supreme Court rulings outlawing juvenile life without parole. (Miller v. Alabama 2012 and Montgomery v. Louisiana 2016.)

The polygraph examiner, a former police officer himself, reported that while results of lie detector tests about the crime Lewis was convicted of were “inconclusive” due to Lewis’ various heart-related ailments, he strongly believes Lewis is innocent.

The brief includes a lengthy history of the times and location where Lewis came of age, compiled by the various experts. It cites multiple newspaper articles describing extreme racist hostility toward Black families moving into the predominantly white Northeast side where Lewis and his family lived, and toward Black children, who were constantly harassed, threatened and robbed by white children.

“White children would chase Black students with cars, jump out of cars with canes, sticks, throw bricks, and chase Black students with dogs,” says the brief. It describes numerous instances of police harassment of Black children as well, stops during which police told them they were not supposed to “be there.”

Ruby Kennedy, the mother of Mark Kennedy (one of the teens who testified under duress against Lewis) told defense investigators that Black mothers recruited Vietnam veterans to defend their children.

It says white children in the area formed a gang called the “White Knights.” Robert Lathan, a neighborhood child at the time, said that a loose-knit association formed by Black children called the “Kilbourne Kapones Killers” was “an alliance against racism. I joined so I wouldn’t have to take the bullcrap.”

Other neighbors who were children at the time said they adopted that name as a means of frightening off their white attackers but denied that the group was a “gang.”

Some newspaper articles on the killing of off-duty police officer Robert Sypitkowski on July 31, 1976 described Lewis as a leader of the “Kilbourne Killers” gang. However, the brief says that after Lewis’ arrest, two adult prisoners in the Wayne County Jail threatened him with rape, but another adult prisoner read out loud a newspaper article about Lewis’ arrest for killing a police officer, to frighten them off.

That prisoner told Lewis to use the nickname “KK” to stave off future threats. Lewis is still known across the MDOC and among many former prisoners as “KK.” Many MDOC prisoners are known only by such tags.

The first newspaper article on the killing of Sypitkowski, done at the scene directly after the murder, identified only Sypitkowski’s partner and other white eyewitnesses to the killing, and their account of the perpetrator in a white Lincoln Mark IV. No Black teens were identified as present.

The next day, the Freep completely changed the story, with no by-lines,  abandoned the white Lincoln Mark IV issue, and substituted Sgt. Hill’s version. White Boy Rick has said Hill covered up many murders.

Later, the Freep published an article on Lewis’ arrest and identified him as a member of the “K.K. Kapones” gang without substantiation.

The brief also describes vicious attacks by Detroit police on Lewis’ family after his arrest.

In one instance, it says, during a police invasion of the Lewis home on Kilbourne, police slit the throat of the “seeing-eye” dog belonging to Lewis’ younger blind brother, in front of his young siblings, 13, 12, 9 and 5, and hung it from a revolving ceiling fan so that its blood sprayed the entire family.

The home was thoroughly vandalized by police, forcing the Lewises to move and scattering the family.

Retired Detroit police officer Dennis Van Fleteren/Facebook

The brief also cites the testimony at Lewis’ second trial of Officer Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren, who said the two were off-duty, in street clothes, and had been drinking at Oty’s Bar on Harper and Barrett, off East I- 94.

“Van Fleteren testified that sometime before 1:30 a.m., Sypitkowski left the bar and headed down Harper Street,” says the brief, citing page numbers of the testimony.

“Van Fleteren testified further that he was talking to Sypitkowski when a white Mark IV pulled up on Harper with lights out next to Sypitkowski. He further testified that he saw Sypitkowski fall into the street and simultaneously heard a shotgun blast coming from the driver’s side of the white Mark IV. Van Fleteren testified that he ran into the street and attempted to stop the Mark IV by waving his hands and the driver of the Mark IV sped up and nearly ran him down. Van Fleteren testified that he crouched down . . .and memorized the license plate number. Van Fleteren testified that at the time of the incident he thought that the shot that killed his partner came from the white Mark IV. And, that there was no other traffic in the streets.”

The brief adds that Van Fleteren “stands by his testimony today.”

DPD Investigator report shows charges dropped for two of juveniles who testified against Lewis.

The brief says further that even if the testimony of the three juveniles was true, their actions that night were typical of the “impetuosity of youth,” and showed no intent to murder anyone, constituting only a “botched robbery.” It stresses that Sypitkowski “was off-duty that day and on vacation for two weeks. He was in civilian clothes, an orange shirt and blue pants. It would have been impossible for any stranger to identify him as a police officer.”

It notes further that weaknesses in the prosecution’s case included the fact that the three juveniles were originally co-defendants and served no time for the crime, and that no gun was ever found.

The brief says Lewis was turned in to an attorney, Gerald Lorence, by an aunt, for representation, but instead was confronted by then Detroit Police Sgt. Gil Hill and arrested. It says Lewis was never interviewed, never admitted to the crime, and never had his alibi witnesses checked out.

Ominously, it says that one of the juvenile’s stepfathers sent a note to Rosie Lewis through her foreman at the Mack Stamping Plant, where they both worked, the Friday before the officer’s killing but that she did not find it until Monday. Over the weekend, the stepfather was shot to death by his wife, Bernice Warren.

The prosecution’s brief is at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Prosecution-brief-on-Lewis-resentencing.pdf.

Husband and wofe Prosecutors Tom Dawson and Lori Dawson listen as defense atty.Clinton Hubbell argues for the sentence of 10 to 40 yrs. originally granted to juvenile lifer Cortez Davis by Judge Vera Massey Jones, who said she did not believe he was incorrigible. Davis was not the shooter in the crime  he was accused at 16. and took care of himself and his homeless siblings. He went on to have a stellar record in prison and was also a staff writer for VOD. The Dawsons argued he should have received a 28-60 year sentence, but he was released after the 25 years the new judge imposed on him.

AP Tom Dawson does not include the testimony of Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren or anyone else who testified that his killer was driving a white Lincoln Mark IV, focusing solely on the three juveniles’ statements to police. It does not include any interviews with those who best knew and know Charles Lewis. It cites Lewis’ disciplinary record while in prison but does not cite MDOC Corrections Specialist Richard Stapleton’s report that Lewis’ disciplines were typical of youthful offenders who are placed in an extremely hostile adult environment, and over the years find ways of coping, leading to fewer disciplines. Stapleton recommended Lewis’ release and said he does not represent a threat to the community.

Parroting the Michigan Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling last year in Hyatt/Skinner, Dawson says:

“Neither the statute or Miller requires that the court make a specific finding of fact or that the People prove a specific fact prior to the imposition of a sentence of life without the possiblity of parole. “Indeed, there is language in Montgojmery that suggest that the juvenile offender bears the burden of showing that life without parole is not the appropriate sentence by introducing mitigating evidence.” People v Skinner, 502 Mich 89, 131 (2018). MCL 769.25 and Miller simply require that the sentencing court consider the factors enumerated in Miller as well as any other relevant criteria prior to deciding whether to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ultimately, the court’s decision to impose life without the possiblity of parole is not a factual finding, but a moral judgment which is based upon a careful and considered review of the Miller factors and any other elevant consideration. see People v skinner, 502 Mich 89 (2018).”

Attorneys for the two defendants in that case are pursuing all available appeals, citing the Hyatt-Skinner’s deliberate defiance of the provisions of Miller and Montgomery.

Dawson says without proof that Lewis and the three juveniles who testified against him were members of “The Kilbourne Killer,” despite the fact that one disavowed any such membership, and others of Lewis’ contemporaries say the “gang” was actually an “anti-racist alliance.”

Judge Joseph Maher, Lewis’ trial judge, was a blatant racist.

Dawson says also that Judge Joseph Maher declared a “hung jury” in Lewis first trial, but there is no existing transcript that says that. Judge Deborah Thomas said she “thoroughly reviewed” the first transcript and found no evidence that either the defense or the prosecution had called for a mistrial, or any evidence that the jury itself reported it was hung. 

The prosecution relies only on “clerk’s notes” in the scraps of the first transcript that are left, which state a hung jury was declared, with no evidence from the transcript.

The prosecution says, “The evidence shows that the Defendant was the leader of the criminal gang in his neighborhood. The evidence further demonstrates that the Defendant is the one that suggested that the group commit a robbery on this fateful night and that he directed the other young men and told them what to do. Thus, the Defendant’s family and home environment does not mitigate in favor of a term of years sentence.”

However, the defense’s statement completely contradicts that, giving a clear history of the origins of the so-called “Kilbourne Killers/Kapones” with two other youths in the neighborhood, and its purposes of self-defense against racist attacks.

Dawson paints Lewis’ early life as a storybook childhood, but interviews the defense conducted with his family show that it was far from that, with Lewis subjected to constant violence from his stepfather as well as enemies on the street and in the schools, and constant illnesses. The prosecution did not talk directly to any family members, all of whom are anticipating Lewis’ release with joy. Even his stepfather, in his witness statement, says he regrets his treatment of Lewis and his neglect of acting as a father figure for him. 

THE VOICE OF DETROIT HAS BEEN COVERING CHARLES LEWIS’ RE-SENTENCING HEARINGS AND RESEARCHING HIS CASE SINCE MARCH, 2016, PUBLISHING RELATED STORIES LISTED BELOW. VOD EDITOR DIANE BUKOWSKI HAS ALSO SUBMITTED AN AFFIDAVIT ADVOCATING FOR CHARLES LEWIS’ RELEASE TO ALL COURT OFFICERS INVOLVED, AT http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/AFFIDAVIT-OF-FACT-RE-CHARLES-LEWIS-BY-MDB.pdf

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/07/18/msc-grants-harold-walker-new-trial-cites-judge-lillards-jury-coercion-clown-name-calling/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/05/22/charles-k-k-lewis-judge-orders-final-jlwop-hearings-despite-lost-court-file-innocence-claim/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/04/14/free-charles-k-k-lewis-now-cruelty-43-jwlop-re-sentencing-hearings-in-3-years-hearing-tues-apr-16/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/03/27/judge-lillard-trapping-charles-k-k-lewis-to-stop-access-to-higher-courts-hearing-fri-march-29/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/03/06/charles-lewis-challenges-certification-of-lost-court-file-facsimile-hearing-fri-march-8-10-a-m/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2019/01/23/free-at-last-pros-shatters-plan-for-charles-k-k-lewis-release-hearing-thurs-jan-24-1030-am/ 

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/10/26/the-system-failed-charles-k-k-lewis-at-jlwop-hearing-invokes-kaepernick-natl-actions-v-racism

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/09/24/free-detroits-charles-k-k-lewis-now-as-prisoner-releases-flood-deeply-flawed-justice-system

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/10/26/the-system-failed-charles-k-k-lewis-at-jlwop-hearing-invokes-kaepernick-natl-actions-v-racism/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/09/24/free-detroits-charles-k-k-lewis-now-as-prisoner-releases-flood-deeply-flawed-justice-system/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/08/12/will-charles-lewis-247-michigan-juvenile-lifers-die-in-prison-due-to-re-sentencing-delays-or-go-free/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/07/23/advocates-support-wrongfully-convicted-juvenile-lifers-police-victims-at-detroit-courthouse/

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2018/08/03/charles-lewis-juvenile-lifer-sentencing-expert/889887002

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2018/07/02/missing-file-holds-up-juvenile-lifers-bid-freedom/735086002/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/06/22/mi-supreme-court-trashes-ussc-rulings-that-only-the-rarest-child-be-sentenced-to-die-in-prison/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/05/27/u-s-supreme-court-rules-for-death-row-inmate-robert-mccoy-whose-lawyer-conceded-guilt/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/05/07/detroit-peoples-task-force-forges-ahead-for-prisoners-families-youth-community/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/04/11/victory-mich-juvenile-lifers-to-have-good-behavior-credits-included-in-re-sentencing-u-s-court/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2018/02/22/sitting-through-my-own-lynching-charles-lewis-fights-on-3rd-atty-withdraws-in-secret-hearing/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/10/17/judge-denies-bond-in-charles-lewis-juvenile-lifer-case-despite-lost-court-record-innocence/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/10/08/charles-lewis-innocent-detroit-lifer-with-lost-court-file-could-go-free-after-41-yrs-hearing-1013/

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/10/06/juvenile-lifer-seeks-release-years/106375972/

#TAKETHEKNEE! FRI. OCT. 6; FREE CHARLES LEWIS, INNOCENT, IN PRISON 41 YEARS; COURT FILES DESTROYED

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/06/23/juvenile-lifers-ex-offenders-advocates-begin-new-chapter-in-battle-for-justice-june-18/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/08/08/juvenile-lifer-re-sentencings-drag-on-in-michigan-nation-as-states-snub-u-s-supreme-court/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/07/15/the-troubled-resentencing-of-americas-juvenile-lifers-the-nation/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/02/20/charles-lewis-must-be-freed-due-to-loss-of-court-file-innocence-sado-withdraws-from-case/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/02/12/rogue-justice-free-another-innocent-detroiter-charles-lewis-now-hearing-wed-feb-15-9-am/

‘ROGUE JUSTICE!’ FREE ANOTHER INNOCENT DETROITER, CHARLES LEWIS, NOW! HEARING WED. FEB. 15 @ 9 AM.

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/01/20/judge-deborah-thomas-charles-lewis-should-have-been-acquitted-sentence-vacated-in-1976-murde

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/01/12/wayne-co-juvenile-lifers-lives-at-stake-only-two-paroled-charles-lewis-hearing-thurs-feb-9-2017/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/26/free-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-re-sentenced-to-die-in-prison-rally-fri-oct-28/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/13/support-for-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-strong-at-hearing-oct-11-bring-them-home-now/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/07/stop-new-death-penalty-for-mich-juvenile-lifers-rally-tues-oct-11-for-charles-lewis-others/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/09/10/new-hope-for-michigan-juvenile-lifer-charles-lewis-as-others-await-long-delayed-justice/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/09/04/free-charles-lewis-wayne-co-juvenile-lifers-dying-in-prison-rally-at-hearing-tues-sept-6/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/08/02/michigan-files-for-jlwop-for-80-of-juvenile-lifers-fed-court-wants-all-parole-eligible/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/07/26/worthy-others-want-large-portion-of-juvenile-lifers-to-die-in-prison-despite-ussc-rulings/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/05/24/free-charles-lewis-innocent-juvenile-lifer-who-has-spent-41-years-in-state-prisons/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/04/30/why-is-juvenile-lifer-charles-lewis-still-in-prison-16-yrs-after-his-case-was-dismissed/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/10/28/michigans-juvenile-lifers-want-state-to-comply-with-u-s-supreme-court-ruling/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/08/16/michigan-challenges-u-s-supreme-court-ruling-on-juvenile-life-without-parole/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/us-supreme-courts-juvenile-lifer-decision-brings-hope-to-thousands/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/nations-high-court-ends-mandatory-life-without-parole-sentences-for-youth/


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MICH. JUVENILE LIFERS: 63% NOT RE-SENTENCED; FED. CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT CITES VIOLATION OF DUE PROCESS


________________________________________________________
 UPDATE (details below Paredes story): ACLU files 3rd amended complaint expanding original grounds, in front of USDC Judge Mark Goldsmith; contends continued captivity of state juvenile lifers 7 years after Miller v. Alabama violates DUE PROCESS. Also disputes state’s contention that denial of core programming for lifers does not affect chance of parole. ________________________________________________________

“If a prison sentence that exceeds a juvenile offender’s lifespan is unconstitutional because it denies the offender meaningful parole consideration, obviously a LWOP sentence that will never provide them parole consideration does as well.”

200 out of  363 Michigan juvenile lifers have yet to be re-sentenced, while 22 other states have abolished JLWOP completely

Mich. AG Dana Nessel could rescind county requests for renewed life without parole; Gov. Whitmer could commute sentences of JLWOPer’s

Efren Paredes Jr. with family; Paredes has served 29 yrs. since age of 15 in racist Berrien County, which has recommended JLWOP resentencing for 100% of its juvenile lifers. He was not the shooter in his case, or in the store where a clerk was killed by white co-defendants.

via Elyse Blennerhassett

Medium.com

by Efrén Paredes Jr.

Aug 11 2019

A federal judge from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently noted that juvenile life without parole prison sentences are unconstitutional if they are the functional equivalent of life without parole” (LWOP), exceed a juvenile offender’s lifespan, or do not give the offender a “meaningful opportunity for parole consideration.”

The statement was made by Judge Mark Goldsmith in the case Hill v. Whitmer, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115855 (decided 7/12/19), regarding prisoners who were sentenced to LWOP when they were juveniles (“juvenile lifers”). See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Hill-v-Whitmer-7-12-19.pdf

[VOD: In his broader opinion, Judge Goldsmith upheld in part and denied in part the state’s motion for summary judgment on the case.]

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional and ordered the resentencing of all 2,500 prisoners across the nation affected by the ruling.

Judge Mark Goldsmith

The Miller decision held that a LWOP sentence could now only be imposed on juveniles in cases where judges have an option to mete out a term-of-years sentence or a LWOP sentence. In other words, judges must have discretion to choose.

The court made it abundantly clear, however, that LWOP sentences could only be imposed in cases where the juvenile offender is “irreparably corrupt” and incapable of change. They also stated that the extreme sentence must become “rare and uncommon.”

Contrary to popular belief, the high court did not ban LWOP sentences altogether for juvenile offenders. They only struck down LWOP sentences in cases where a mandatory sentence was the only sentence that could be imposed by a judge at the time.

In Michigan there were 373 prisoners who needed to be resentenced. Of that number, 235 prisoners — sixty-three percent — had yet to be resentenced and continued serving unconstitutional sentences.

The inordinate delay has been the result of prosecutors abusing their authority to arbitrarily file motions seeking LWOP sentences against hundreds of prisoners who do not meet the requirements outlined in the landmark Miller ruling. Their misconduct has resulted in the need for costly mitigation hearings and expert witnesses at taxpayer expense.

Judge Goldsmith’s statement strikes at the heart of Michigan’s law regarding the sentencing of juvenile lifers to extreme sentences. If a prison sentence that exceeds a juvenile offender’s lifespan is unconstitutional because it denies the offender meaningful parole consideration, obviously a LWOP sentence that will never provide them parole consideration does as well.

Michigan AG Dana Nessel

Lawmakers continue clinging to pernicious punishment for juvenile offenders so they can campaign as being “tough on crime” rather than “smart on crime.” LWOP sentences for juveniles would have been abolished years ago as twenty-one other states have already done if not for legislators’ reticence to do the right thing.

If lawmakers are unable to resolve this ongoing legal battle one sensible solution is for Attorney General Dana Nessel to withdraw the motions filed by prosecutors seeking LWOP sentences again for the remaining 235 juvenile lifer cases. This would avert further delays, allow judges to schedule sentencing hearings, and proceed as they normally do when performing other individualized sentencing hearings.

[The AG’s webpage includes the following general powers accorded to the AG: 

  • Represents the People of Michigan in civil and criminal matters before trial courts, appellate courts and the supreme courts of Michigan and the United States.
  • Serves as legal counsel to state officers and, with few exceptions, to state agencies, boards and commissions.
  • Assists prosecuting attorneys, local law enforcement and federal criminal justice agencies in the administration of justice.]

The impediment to moving forward would be removed and prosecutors could still argue for imposition of radically extreme sentences, if they elect to do so. Sentencing bodies are not marionettes for prosecutors, however. They are independent thinkers who can interpret the law and will side with the U.S. Supreme Court more often than they will with prosecutors in the vast majority of cases.

Another proposed solution is for Governor Whitmer to commute the sentences of the remaining juvenile lifers awaiting resentencing to 25- to 60-year sentences, and give jurisdiction to the Parole Board to begin reviewing the cases for parole consideration after the prisoners have served twenty-five years. After twenty-five years all juvenile lifers will have served well over half their entire lives behind bars.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

. . . .Release of prisoners would be contingent upon their rehabilitation and what they are doing with their time while incarcerated. Those who do not demonstrate growth and maturity could remain incarcerated up to 60 years depending on their behavior, if they live that long.

Of the nearly seventy prisoners who have been paroled none have recidivated and all have become productive members of society. Prisoners serving LWOP sentences who are released have a less than one percent chance of recidivating. This is the lowest recidivism risk of all offense categories.

Commuting the sentences would also save taxpayers millions of dollars that could be reinvested in schools and infrastructure projects rather than spent on avoidable mitigation hearings. Conservative estimates have the cost of 235 hearings being upwards of $10 million to pay for attorneys, qualified expert witnesses, and court hearings.

Political theater and gamesmanship are not the solutions to correct failed public policies that prizedeath-by-incarceration sentences over rehabilitation and redemption for juvenile offenders. Creating more injustice is not a solution to resolving injustice, it only compounds the problem. We need more solutions not more problems.

https://medium.com/here-i-am-buried-alive/fed-judge-makes-case-to-end-life-sentences-for-juvenile-offenders-bab273ceb502

______________________________________________________________

The Little Rock Nine finishing a school day in Arkansas under the protection of federal troops. The U.S. government called the troops in to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that southern schools must be desegregated.

JUSTICE DELAYED—JUSTICE DENIED! 

WILL FEDERAL COURT  FREE 200 MICHIGAN JUVENILE LIFERS FROM DEATH IN PRISON?

 Hill v. Whitmer third amendment to complaint: juvenile lifers’ captivity violates federal due process rules: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Hill-v-Whitmer-Third-Amendment-to-Complaint.pdf

Even those who have been re-sentenced face long waits and uncertain future with parole board, failure of state to provide programming cited

JUVENILE LIFER CHARLES LEWIS FINALLY HAS MITIGATION HEARING SCHEDULED FOR WED. OCT. 15 @ 9 AM, JUDGE LILLARD, RM. 502 FMHJ

By Diane Bukowski

October 1, 2019

DETROIT, MI – Will Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel live up to her campaign promises on behalf of the state’s juvenile lifers in the newest phase of a federal class action lawsuit, Hill v. Whitmer?

The suit was re-filed by Attorney Deborah LaBelle and the Michigan ACLU on behalf of over 200 Michigan juvenile lifers who have languished in prison far beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of mandatory juvenile life without parole in 2012, and its declaration making the ruling retroactive in 2016. They have yet to see a judge for judicial review and resentencing.

On Sept. 9, LaBelle filed a Third Amendment to the Complaint alleging that the delays constitute clear violations of federal due process law. On Oct. 3, LaBelle countered the state’s position that the denial of programming and training to lifers does not adversely affect their chances for parole.

The 200 juvenile lifers represent 63 percent of the total number of the state’s juvenile lifers, 363. County prosecutors are seeking renewed life without parole for them, in apparent violation of the high court’s holdings that only the rarest child proven to be incapable of rehabilitation should die in prison. Seventy percent of Michigan juvenile lifers are Black. The highest number, 60, come from Wayne County.

“There’s an understanding, obviously, that when juveniles commit crimes, it does not mean that they are someone who forever cannot be rehabilitated, “ Nessel told Michigan Public Radio, while campaigning for AG. “Their brains are not fully formed. There’s a lot of scientific evidence and scientific data that bears that out. So I do think that in all but the most extreme cases, you should be giving that person the opportunity to be paroled at some point in life.”

A complete list of the juvenile lifers awaiting resentencing is included in Hill v. Whitmer case documents at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/List-of-juvenile-lifers-awaiting-resentencing.pdf

In 2016, former Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair and other retired prosecutors, outraged at Michigan’s non-compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, called on the federal government to intervene.

“Some prosecutors and judges in Michigan have ignored the Court’s guidance that life sentences for youth are impermissible except for ‘the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such depravity that rehabilitation is impossible,’ and have relied heavily on the life without parole option provided to them by the Legislature,’ O’Hair wrote in an editorial published in several newspapers.

“[The incarcerated juvenile lifers] got a shock recently when prosecutors recommended life without parole—again—for most, if not all, of those eligible for resentencing. Their actions undermine the Supreme Court and are an affront to our justice system.”

Meanwhile, 22 states have either abolished juvenile life without parole, and five have no one serving that sentence, a rapid increase over the past several years.

The U.S. is the ONLY country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. It is also the only country in the world with TRUE life without parole. In others, lifers are still afforded regular parole hearings and release if rehabilitated. The battle against JLWOP has ignited a broader battle against LWOP across the U.S., from Pennsylvania to California.

The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration met with PA gov. Tom Wolf last year after State Sen. Sharif Street introduced legislation that would outlaw life without parole sentences.

Nessel’s office now represents the state in ongoing hearings before U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith on the Hill case, replacing former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a virulent opponent of releasing juvenile lifers.

Goldsmith appointed Atty. Deborah LaBelle as the official representative of the juvenile lifer class when he earlier struck down provisions of state statutes passed in 2014 that denied resentenced juvenile lifers their access to “good time” credits.

Atty. Deborah LaBelle represents juvenile lifer class in federal court.

In her filing Sept. 9, LaBelle wrote, “More than three years after the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana . . . . (2016), confirmed that plaintiffs are entitled to be resentenced, nearly 200 Hill class members remain in prison awaiting resentencing with no relief in sight. To compound this injustice, many would be eligible for release on parole or even immediate release if they are resentenced to a term-of-years. A delay this serious should no longer be countenanced.

“Therefore, Plaintiffs request permission to amend their complaint to add a claim seeking a declaratory judgement that the unreasonable delay in resentencing violates the Plaintiffs’ due process rights.”

She added, “The delay in resentencing Plaintiffs is inexcusable. It came about by Michigan’s initial over-designation of the majority of the Plaintiff class as the rarest of youth whose crime evidences irreparable corruption and is incapable of rehabilitation, and seeking to reimpose Plaintiffs’ life-without-parole sentences. But seeking to reimpose life-without-parole sentences on the majority of youth (including those who were convicted of felony murder, those who have exemplary prison records and demonstrable rehabilitation) should not result in over three years of delay in Plaintiffs having the opportunity to demonstrate that a term-of-years sentence is warranted and thus provide them with their constitutional right to a meaningful opportunity to obtain their release.”

Charles Lewis, now 60, has served nearly 44 years in prison, since the age of 17 for the killing of an off-duty police officer in 1976, during a period of violent racial strife and mortal danger for Black youth in the city. Lewis is one of 60 juvenile lifers for whom Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has recommended renewed LWOP.

Charles Lewis in 1977 at age 17 with mother Rosie Lewis.

He has always maintained his innocence. Lewis’ trial Judge Joseph Maher never stated on the record why he dismissed Lewis’ first jury after it heard from the officer’s partner and numerous other eyewitnesses that another man committed the crime.

During an appeal hearing in 2006, Judge Deborah Thomas said that meant he should have been acquitted and subject to double jeopardy, and that the prosecution’s theory of the case, drawn from three younger juveniles who were threatened with charges if they did not testify against Lewis, was “a scientific impossibility.”

Judge Gershwin Drain ordered Lewis’ conviction and sentence dismissed in an order on April 3, 2000, but the order was lost in another file for 10 years.  After Lewis moved to carry out the order,  his entire case file came up missing and he was accused of forgery, with no documentary proof.  He says legal precedents mandate his case should have been dismissed. 

He is one of the first juvenile lifers facing a recommendation of LWOP to be scheduled for a mitigation hearing Tues. Oct. 15 at 9 am in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard, Rm. 502 FMHJ. In his defense brief, Lewis’ attorney Sanford Schulman is asking for him to be re-sentenced to a term of 40 years, which would mean immediate discharge due to Judge Goldsmith’s restoration of good-time benefits to the juvenile lifer class.

Lewis told VOD that at least 30 juvenile lifers, also recommended for LWOP, are in the Macomb Correctional Facility Re-Entry Program with him. 

Attorney Schulman is court-appointed and selected numerous resentencing experts including a polygraph examiner (with respect to the validity of Lewis’ innocence claim), a psychiatrist, a mitigation specialist, and an MDOC misconduct specialist,  with generally positive results recommending release. 

Charles Lewis (l), on guitar and Bill Lemons, on keyboard, both noted musicians, play in prison band several years ago. Lewis has honed his musical skills and organized concerts throughout the MDOC. He still plays at Sunday services at Macomb CF.

Lewis hopes to resume a promising musical career upon release. He was known before his arrest and during his imprisonment for “world-class” talent in writing music, producing concerts, and playing virtually every musical instrument. But he said others with him are not so fortunate.

“Many don’t have attorneys, or have not seen them or experts to which they are entitled under state law, and they don’t know when or if ever they will ever benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court rulings,” he said.

He remembered the joy with which juvenile lifers greeted the Miller v. Alabama ruling in 2012.

“That was the first time we knew we would not have to die in prison,” he recalled. His mother said prison officials told her when he was sentenced that she would not even be able to get his body to bury him after he died in prison.

But Lewis is gravely concerned that judges have resentenced some juvenile lifers to life without parole again, without adequate grounds, and wonders what action is planned in their defense. Additionally, other plaintiffs’ filings in the Hill v. Whitmer federal case indicate that many juvenile lifers who HAVE been re-sentenced face ongoing complications with the parole board, based in part on the state’s admitted policy of denying programming and training to prisoners serving life.

David Bennett, incarcerated since 1972 for the murder of a young woman, was resentenced to LWOP  on June 5, 2019 by visiting Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dalton Roberson, known before his retirement for his relatively liberal stance. At the time of Bennett’s original sentencing in 1992, experts said he was suffering from schizophrenia and other mental disorders, and he was placed on a regimen of multiple anti-psychotic medications.

His attorneys Eric Van Campen and Kristin Lavoy wrote in their defense brief that Bennett “has committed no act of aggression or violence” in the last 45 years.

David Bennett at 17 going into Garden City court.

David Bennett today, aged 67.

“Even though he was sentenced to die in prison, Mr. Bennett chose to better himself in every way possible,” they said. “He has put extraordinary effort into developing skills to cope with his mental illness and manage the trauma of his youth.

“Today, Mr. Bennett’s mental health is so stable that the only medication he takes is for depression. Thus, Mr. Bennett has demonstrated not only that he had the capacity for rehabilitation at the time of his offense, but that he has been successfully rehabilitated through his own efforts, the aging process, and the programming he has received within the MDOC.”

But Judge Roberson gave Bennett life again. The Judge said Bennett had been on multiple anti-psychotic medications and expressed fear that he would not continue taking his meds if he was not in a structured environment, despite contrary indications from expert defense witnesses.

Barbara P. Hernandez MDOC photo

Barbara Hernandez was resentenced to LWOP on Aug. 8, 2019 by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Nanci Grant. Born on March 16, 1974, Hernandez left home at 14 as a result of ongoing physical and sexual abuse first from her father and then from her stepfather. She moved in with a boyfriend four years her senior. In 1990 when Barbara was sixteen, her boyfriend coerced her into helping him steal a car as part of a plan to leave the state. When Barbara brought a man with a car to the house, her boyfriend attacked and killed the victim while Barbara was in another room.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper recommended LWOP for nearly 100 percent of that County’s juvenile offenders. Along with former Michigan AG Schuette, Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and Berrien County Prosecutor, she has been one of the most strenuous opponents of any change in juvenile lifer laws.

Juan Carlos Nunez MDOC

In Michigan’s Ottawa County, the sole juvenile lifer there, Juan Carlos Nunez, was resentenced to LWOP April 24, by County Circuit Court Judge Jon Hulzing.

Nunez was 16 at the time of the murder in question, which took place during a robbery gone wrong. Judge Hulsing considered the six Miller factors mitigating crimes committed by youths, but declared that Nunez “still knew right from wrong.” This constituted a  deliberate misstatement of the U.S. Supreme Court findings in Miller and Montgomery, which cited scientific evidence that the brains of juveniles, in particular the areas involving impulse control, do not develop fully until the age of 25.

The Hill v, Whitmer complaint until now had proceeded chiefly along lines of the defense’s argument in Count VI.

Count VI alleges that by failing or refusing “to provide programming, education, training and rehabilitation opportunities,” Defendants have “deprived Plaintiffs of meaningful opportunities to obtain release based on their demonstrated growth, maturity and rehabilitation.”

The State took the position essentially that the parole board does not require proof of such programming in releasing prisoners on parole and identified various defendants who had been re-sentenced to terms of years despite the lack of such resources. However, LaBelle cites juvenile lifers who have been re-sentenced to a term of years, but not yet paroled, awaiting completion of such programming.

Kevin Boyd at 15

Kevin Boyd, now 42

“Kevin Boyd must complete substance abuse core programming, yet he has been denied access to this program during his over thirty-years of incarceration in MDOC facilities,” writes LaBelle. “The prosecutor in Oakland County sought to resentence Kevin Boyd, a named class representative, to life without parole. On May 15, 2019, Kevin was instead resentenced to a term of 25-60 years. With good time credits he was eligible for release on June 1, 2015. Kevin was not interviewed by the Parole Board until June 24, 2019, and is still waiting to receive its decision, over three months later.

Tykeith Turner was resentenced on December 21, 2016 to 25-60 years. He has outstanding requirements for core programming, including substance abuse and violence prevention programming. Defendants refused to allow Tykeith’s requests to participate in this programming even after his life-without-parole sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to a term-of-years sentence.

Tykeith Turner, now 40.

On April 29, 2018, Tykeith became parole-eligible and the next day he was interviewed by the Parole Board. Tykeith has yet to receive a decision more than a year later.  

Defendants’ records note that Tykeith is still awaiting classification referral for substance abuse and violence prevention core programming; they also note that Tykeith as ineligible for this programming because of his “lifer” status. 1 (See Ex. 2).  

“Defendants also fail to address class members, including Christopher Wiley and Lorenzo Harrell, whose parole decision was deferred specifically because they had been unable to complete core programs. In fact, Defendants deferred Christopher Wiley’s and Lorenzo Harrell’s parole reviews for months because they had not completed recommended core programming.

Christopher WIley

Lorenzo Harrell

“But Defendants denied them access to this critical programming while they were waiting to be resentenced. Thus, they remained incarcerated—despite being immediately parole-eligible—solely because they had failed to complete recommended core programs.”

There are thirty-two other class members who have been resentenced, are parole-eligible, and have outstanding core programming requirements. It is unclear when or if they will ever be provided this programming before their parole review hearings, or whether their parole determinations will be deferred, denied or delayed because of this lack of core programming.”

Juvenile Lifers for Justice Rally, June 18, 2017, organized by Efren Paredes: supporters of Charles Lewis and Mike Calviin were among dozens who turned out. Mike Calvin is set for a mitigation hearing October 24, 2019.

 A selection of related articles from VOD:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/06/13/stop-death-in-prison-for-children-juvenile-lifer-rally-for-justice-sun-june-18-2-5-pm-detroit/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/06/10/false-detroit-conviction-vincent-smothers-says-he-not-thelonious-searcy-killed-jamal-segars-in-2004/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/05/09/cruel-unusual-juvenile-sentences-continue-cortez-davis-gets-25-60-not-legal-10-40-yrs/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/03/24/appeals-court-hears-juvenile-lifer-meadows-case-pros-kym-worthy-objected-to-release-after-47-yrs/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/02/11/bernard-young-free-after-27-yrs-bond-new-trial-granted-more-innocents-in-mich-prisons/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/01/12/wayne-co-juvenile-lifers-lives-at-stake-only-two-paroled-charles-lewis-hearing-thurs-feb-9-2017/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/26/free-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-re-sentenced-to-die-in-prison-rally-fri-oct-28/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/13/support-for-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-strong-at-hearing-oct-11-bring-them-home-now/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2017/01/20/judge-deborah-thomas-charles-lewis-should-have-been-acquitted-sentence-vacated-in-1976-murder/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/11/28/case-of-zerious-meadows-challenges-michigans-draconic-juvenile-lifer-re-sentencing-practices/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/11/08/good-news-in-timothy-kincaid-juvenile-lifer-case-judge-recommends-immediate-parole/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/26/free-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-re-sentenced-to-die-in-prison-rally-fri-oct-28/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/13/support-for-charles-lewis-mich-juvenile-lifers-strong-at-hearing-oct-11-bring-them-home-now/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/10/07/stop-new-death-penalty-for-mich-juvenile-lifers-rally-tues-oct-11-for-charles-lewis-others/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/09/10/new-hope-for-michigan-juvenile-lifer-charles-lewis-as-others-await-long-delayed-justice/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/09/04/free-charles-lewis-wayne-co-juvenile-lifers-dying-in-prison-rally-at-hearing-tues-sept-6/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/08/18/genocide-state-s-a-d-o-subject-michigan-juvenile-lifers-to-more-cruel-and-unusual-punishment/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/08/02/michigan-files-for-jlwop-for-80-of-juvenile-lifers-fed-court-wants-all-parole-eligible/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/07/26/worthy-others-want-large-portion-of-juvenile-lifers-to-die-in-prison-despite-ussc-rulings/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/06/02/stop-torturing-michigans-juvenile-lifers-with-state-delays-freedom-now/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/05/24/free-charles-lewis-innocent-juvenile-lifer-who-has-spent-41-years-in-state-prisons/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/05/18/michigan-juvenile-lifers-score-6th-circuit-appeals-court-victory-in-hill-v-snyder/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/04/30/why-is-juvenile-lifer-charles-lewis-still-in-prison-16-yrs-after-his-case-was-dismissed/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/04/12/dying-in-prison-michigan-juvenile-lifers-get-new-hope-under-montgomery-still-face-obstacles/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2013/02/12/u-s-judge-rules-all-michigan-juvenile-lifers-eligible-for-parole/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/10/28/michigans-juvenile-lifers-want-state-to-comply-with-u-s-supreme-court-ruling/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/08/16/michigan-challenges-u-s-supreme-court-ruling-on-juvenile-life-without-parole/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/us-supreme-courts-juvenile-lifer-decision-brings-hope-to-thousands/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/nations-high-court-ends-mandatory-life-without-parole-sentences-for-youth/

#FREEEFRENPAREDESJRNOW, #FREECHARLESLEWISNOW, #FREEMIKECALVINNOW#FREEMICHIGANJUVENILELIFERSNOW, #ENDMASSINCARCERATION, #ENDSCHOOLTOPRISONPIPELINE 


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VOD Interviews Women Who Rock! FOUNDERS OF THE NATIONAL ANTI-BULLY CRUSADERS ORGANIZATION

Some members of the Michigan Chapter of the  Anti-Bullying Crusade; Patricia Reed at bottom center

OCTOBER: NATIONAL ANTI-BULLYING AWARENESS MONTH!

By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Staff Writer

VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell

Women are the cradle of civilization and should be honored as such – Everyday! Far too often, the strong women of our society who are out there on the frontlines get overshadowed by the philanthropic work of the Rich & Famous; therefore, overlooked by mainstream media outlets.

In this article, Voice of Detroit  is proud to be honoring and recognizing three women of excellence who Rock! Today, we’ll be highlighting their inspiration to others, and their passion to eradicate bullying and reduce violence.

To combat these issues that plague our children and have become a common theme in our learning institutions across America, Lauren Washington cofounded the Anti-Bully Crusaders Organization (ABC). A nonprofit 501(c)(3). @ http://www.antibullycrusaders.org.

Through hard work, dedication, vision and leadership these women are impacting the lives of our children and changing the landscape in our communities. Now, let’s meet the beautiful women who are responsible for running ABC. Lauren Washington, Alexis Ramirez and Patricia Reed.

Kiesha Shaw, named ABC’s new event planner, was not directly available for this interview. But Keisha attributes her motivation for the ABC Project to her passion for learning, teaching, and empowering the youth.

Lauren Washington co-founder Anti-Bully Crusaders, with dad Leroy Washington

RICARDO: HELLO LADIES. SO TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU CHOSE BULLYING AS YOUR HUMANITARIAN CAUSE?

LAUREN:  Okay, where do I start? I have a degree and background in Business. I’m working on my MBA, trying to break into the Real Estate market, and I’ve recently teamed up with an investment group to relaunch my online boutique.

Why Anti-bullying… Changing and Saving young lives has become a major priority for me? It really bothers me to see young children and teens committing suicide. Actually taking their OWN lives because they are getting bullied. That is UNACCEPTABLE. I can’t just sit on the sideline and watch this epidemic continue without doing something. I think we all have a moral obligation to get involved – by doing so, we are helping to save some lives. The pain I have in my heart is we’re not doing all we can do, in the wealthiest country in the world, to put a stop to bullying and senseless acts of violence. So, ABC is my contribution to the solution.

Alexis Ramirez, ABC Executive Director

ALEXIS: Well, I have a degree in accounting. I’ve known Lauren for a while and when she told me about her idea for this nonprofit and she needed my assistance to help eradicate bullying, it was a no brainer for me. I really believe in the cause. To witness the program actually working makes my heart flutter. There is no better feeling than knowing you’ve made a difference in the life of a child who needs your help.

PATRICIA: I have a Bachelors of Science from the University of Phoenix. I worked in the manufacturing industry for 12 years before I decided to become a teacher. As an educator working with at risk youth in the Lansing Public School District, I have witnessed firsthand how our learning institutions have become a common place for hazing, cruelty, humiliation, mistreatment… and all the other acts of bullying.

Michael Martin, 13, committed suicide after bullying.

I said “Enough is Enough” when a 13 year-old 8th grader, Michael Martin of Lansing Everet High School, committed suicide in January of this year because he was being bullied. The really sad part about this story is the fact that his mother was proactive and went to the administrators of that school for help in November. This made me really upset. Kids are dying because other kids are picking on them in school! School is supposed to be a safe place. To make matters worse, as I further researched, I found out that Michigan has one of the highest bullying-related suicide rates in the country. That’s when I decided, I definitely have to do something to help change this narrative.

RICARDO: LAUREN CAN YOU TELL US HOW ABC CAME ABOUT?

LAUREN: It would be my pleasure. I was a freshman in college and I had to do a research paper on suicides. As I was researching, I came across some startling statistics. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “Four thousand four hundred (4,400) American teenagers commit suicide annually, and two out of nine (22%) as a result of an act of bullying. That really bothered me. I knew right then and there, I had to do something about it.

ABC co-founder Leroy Washington, Lauren’s father.

I got with my father and asked him to help me develop a program for young people that would impact their lives and help us as human beings to change the way we treat each other. He responded in his typical nonchalant fashion “to easy ma.” We worked on a curriculum and instructor’s manual for a couple of years, then founded the “Anti-Bully Crusaders Organization.”

And here we are. It hasn’t been an easy task, or journey, but I have learned so much along the way and met so many wonderful and amazing young people. To know that my father and I, along with our ABC family is making a difference, is so rewarding.

RICARDO: TELL US HERE AT VOD ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND WHAT IS DIFFERENT WITH ABC FROM OTHER ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAMS?

LAUREN: While there are many Anti-Bullying organizations/programs, their disadvantage is that most are only symposium-based, merely on a one-time group meeting or discussion. Although we believe they mean well, their methodology does not equip participants with the necessary tools to understand the problem, let alone change the narrative. Therefore, they are less effective. No organization does what ABC does. We offer an interactive curriculum that is engaging, thought provoking, and actually causes change in the Thinking, Attitude and Behavior. Basically, we are teaching young people how to think. Not what to think. And that’s important.

ALEXIS: In my eyes, the program is special because of the way it was beta tested in a prison setting, among a group of 60 Black, White, and Hispanic young men between the ages of 15 to 21. It changed the lives of the original participants forever. These gang members and violent offenders became change agents. Their attitudes and behaviors were a direct reflection of the program. 

Patricia Reed, President of ABC Michigan Chapter

The prison administration mandated it for the entire youth population. Within the first month of implementation it reduced the overall violence in that prison by 32% (from 480 critical incidents down to 150). That’s amazing. We learned that if can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

In our current form of the program, we have kept the integrity of the original program, but have revised it, to become relevant to the needs of men, women, teens, and children everywhere. Now, who can say their program has been tried and tested in this fashion and capacity? Big thanks to the administrators at the Thumb prison for letting us pilot, monitor and evaluate the program at their facility.

PATRICIA: As an educator, what stood out to me about the program was the multiplicity in the style of teaching. ABC uses five complementary tools that build understanding: Reading, Visualizing, Writing, Conversing, and Reflecting. It is education in its truest form, tapping into the experience of the participants to elicit “the exchange of information.” We create an environment in which a group can together explore issues of bullying, drawing forth from one another a deeper understanding of how these issues affect our lives as individuals and as a society. The emphasis is on the real-life experiences the facilitators and participants bring to the class. These experiences inform the readings. The readings illuminate the experiences. The exercises opens everyone to the process.

RICARDO: HOW RECEPTIVE ARE THE SCHOOLS AND KIDS OF YOUR PROGRAM?

ALEXIS: Every school we’ve been to has made the experience pleasant. We get a lot of calls from schools all over the United States requesting our workshops and seminars. Unfortunately, our resources are limited and we can’t service everyone. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but that’s the problem we’re having right now. So, this year, in order to service more schools, we are planning some unique fundraising events. Hopefully, we’ll get awarded the grants we’ve applied for. We are seeking a title one certification. This will help urban schools offset some of the cost. For schools, who may not have available funding in their programming budget, we can help them do some creative fundraising as well.

Shawn T. Blanchard, author of “How About That for a Crack Baby?”

As far as the program… With young people, you know they can be rough at times. However, Shawn (Shawn T. Blanchard) and Tracy (Palmer) are consummate professionals. They do most of the facilitator’s training and keynote speaking. Both are exceptional mentors and the kids really respect them and their approach. What we’ve been learning from our program (a common across the board), while school is a learning institution, our children are coming to school with a lot of unsolved issues. Our program opens the door to these conversations. One of the primary things we teach young people, is how to ask for help.

LAUREN: I agree with Lex. I’m no psychologist, but I can remember days in school where I had social distractions. I didn’t know how to deal with these issues nor did I know how to ask for help. A child can’t learn anything when so many other things are on his/her mind that they feel are far more important. We have to help them clear the air first. We have to stop discounting what’s important issues to our young people. For instance, on day five of the journal action challenge we ask students: “Make a firm decision today and let go of something in your heart that has kept you living in hatred, rather than love. Write down what you plan to let go. Why do you think you’ve held on to this feeling for so long? One student wrote: “Well first of all I would let go of the hate from the men that killed my brother but yeah no that hatred never leaving.”

Two things… First, this is a cry for help. The student is saying, I want to forgive, but I don’t know how! Secondly, how can a student perform at a high level, when they have to deal with these real-life personal and social issues? Our programming opens the door for meaningful dialogue that young people to address issues that are not being addressed in our schools. And, with all due respect, we can’t expect or force our teachers or learning institutions to become psychologists or psychiatrists.

RICARDO: THAT WAS DEEP. WHAT DO YOU LADIES THINK WE ARE DOING WRONG? AND AS PARENTS WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE THINGS BETTER?

Keisha Shaw ABC Event Coordinator

LAUREN: To be honest I don’t have all the solutions. ABC has been my contribution and starting point. Collectively, we have to do more to stop bullying and violence. We are the most affluent and greatly blessed people anywhere on this planet and we are not doing enough for those who do not have a voice.

PATRICIA: I think we have to take these social issues more seriously. Young people are experiencing and experimenting more. If we don’t teach our kids, somwone less qualified certainly will. The streets are mean. Full of destruction and death. We must teach them to embrace the concepts of ,”The Strong Must Protect Weak! Not ridicule and Exploit Them! And collectively we are not going to allow it!

RICARDO: WE HEARD THAT PATRICIA WILL BE OVERSEEING THE MICHIGAN BRANCH OF ABC. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT INITIATIVE? WHEN WILL IT START AND WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

PATRICIA: I’m very excited about having this opportunity. Last year we were blessed to work with Martin Luther King High School (Detroit), Great Lakes Academy (Pontiac), and Northwestern High School (Flint). This year we hope to kick off the Michigan initiative during NABAM (National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month) of October by servicing more schools in those districts as well as Lansing Everet and Sexton. Our objective is to get the parents, city council members, mayors, state reps., the governor, the public and most importantly, all the students involved in this movement to help make all schools a “Bully Free Safe Zone!” We need volunteers and all the support we can get. We the “PEOPLE” have to change this ugly narrative of -Bullying.

LAUREN: This year our focus is to put boots on the ground in Michigan and establish a permanent presence. Our goal is to make all schools in Michigan a “Bully Free Safe Zone!” We are cordially inviting everyone to get involved in this fight to eradicate bullying. If you would like to bring a workshop or seminar to your school please contact us. We would be happy to go over this fun, quick and easy process. We work directly with the student body, PTA, faculty amd local community leaders to assist in creative funding alternatives and fundraising opportunities. Contact us today at: www.antibullycrusaders.org

RICARDO: LAUREN YOU SAID SOMETHING THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. “…MAKING THE WORLD BETTER FOR THE NEXT GENERATION” WOULD YOU PLEASE ELABORATE?

LAUREN: Absolutely. My father has imparted upon me that every generation must prepare for the next generation. To live for today is shortsighted and selfish, to live for tomorrow is vision and selfless. God gave us all the wealth of our potential, abilities, energies, creativity, ideas, and dreams to help others. To help the next generation, we must nurture these gifts. If I do not take what has been given to me and my potential to make a serious contribution and difference, then I will have failed not only myself, but others who are depending on people like me.

RICARDO: SPEAKING OF YOUR FATHER, THAT’S MY GUY! WHAT IS HE UP TO RIGHT NOW?

LAUREN: Well, as you know he’s working on his Doctorate of Education. He has four classes this semester. He’s working on his biography/memoir. Shawn T. Blanchard hooked us up with a publishing deal from Lion’s Dream. He’s helping us coordinate our Michigan initiative. While these are huge opportunities, he’s most excited about the TAB-MI (Thinking-Attitude-Behavior-Modification-Initiative) curriculum he’s working on with you and Quentin Jones. I thought I was busy… major sensory overload! I don’t know how you guys do it! But, corrective behavior, mentoring and curriculum writing is what he’s most passionate about. I can’t wait to see you all’s project come into fruition.

Thank you. All I can say about the TAB-MI Project, is that it’s huge. We have some real heavyweights making a scholarly contribution. And, you’re right. Your father is one of the most driven individuals I’ve met in a long time. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited and honored when he asked me to be a part of this venture. I came right in and proposed a name for the project, which turned out in part to be from an essay I wrote for DreamBigLiveBig.Net, a free online website for troubled youth and young adults titled: Thinking*Attitude*Behavior (TAB).

RICARDO: WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN STORE FOR THE NATIONAL ANTI-BULLY AWARENESS MONTH OF OCTOBER?

ALEXIS: NABAM (National Anti-Bully Awareness Month) of October is a special month for our cause. 2017, the theme was “Speak-Up & Speak-Out” campaign; 2018, was the “Bullying Stop Here!” rally; this year our objective is to make all of our learning institutions a “Bully Free Safe Zone.” During October, we’ll be hosting the ABC seminar at 25 schools in 25 days (25/25). This tour will allow us to reach and teach over 75,000 students in Dallas/Fort Worth and surrounding areas. Our goal is to spread awareness, teach students about the Bully Situation, give each school an opportunity to bring the ABC Workshop to their community, and of course this is our month of fundraising. It’s also noteworthy to mention: Our NABAM Celebrity Basketball Game that was scheduled for October has been postponed until May 2020. Some of our staff was invited to the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Detroit at the historic Masonic Temple, around the same time, and with the 25/25, we just won’t have time to make it as epic an event as we would like. We’re not in the business of half doing things.

RICARDO: NO SHAME IN DOING IT RIGHT. MAYBE YOU’LL GIVE US AN EXCLUSIVE TO COVER THAT EVENT IN MAY?

ALEXIS: Sounds Good. It’s official! The entire VOD family is invited.

RICARDO: WHERE DO YOU SEE ABC IN THE NEXT 2-3 YEARS?

LAUREN: Glad you asked! Our ultimate goal is to have the Anti-Bully Crusaders Program in all schools across the nation. With that, we would like to have certified ABC Student Ambassadors at all schools to help represent the program and movement. Also, just to let you in on a little secret, we are in talks with a group about helping us add a second phase to the ABC Programming. This will be a follow up/mentorship program for all former participants. In order to keep them on track, we would like to offer them additional resources and tools. So, stay tuned-in and make sure you sign up for the ABC Newsletter on our website. Coming this Fall!

PATRICIA: One of the main goals that I would like to accomplish is to work on developing a curriculum for preschool and elementary schools, because I’ve noticed that bullying starts at a very young age.

RICARDO: AS WOMEN WHO ROCK! WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN WHO MAY SEE YOU AS A ROLE MODEL?

LAUREN: I would tell young a young woman what my father told me… “You have the ability to create the world you want to live in. Nothing is fixed for you. You can conquer anything you put your mind too! Knots can be untied, chains can be broken, walls can be smashed down, and doors can be pushed open. Keep that self-determination and confidence in your abilities. Always listen to your inner voice and never let others drown it out. Measure your words and balance your works with your gifts carefully.

Let NO one define who you are! Some will deify you, and treat you like a princess, while others will want to dismiss you as a peasant. Some will embrace you, others will shun and reject you. This is the world we live in, but their opinions of you will not increase or diminish the value of who you truly are! Allow none to tempt you to abandon your principles. Always follow what is right! Stick to the path of honesty and integrity. You are a strong young lady…let nothing break you!” If you wanna be great, you have to do all the extraordinary things that great people do! Being a woman means we have to work twice as hard, be twice as smart. When everyone is playing, vacationing, sleeping, we gotta be putting in work!

PATRICIA: The advice I would give a young woman who may see me as a role model is to always find a purpose that you’re passionate about. Knowing her purpose helps her stay focused on the goals that she has set for herself and will make life more meaningful. She should always surround herself with positive and successful people who will inspire her to be a better person.

ALEXIS: To all the women out there, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from reaching your full potential. Get out there, be brave and don’t be afraid to learn or try new things. When you find your passion in life or something you enjoy doing or want to do, go after it, keep pushing and don’t give up. The only thing worse than a failure, is a no try!

RICARDO: WE NEED MORE PROGRAMS LIKE ABC IN OUR SCHOOLS. HOW CAN WE HELP RAISE FUNDS AND WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR GREATEST SUPPORTERS?

ALEXIS: This fiscal year will be the first time we apply for grant help. If anyone has any grant information or suggestions, we could certainly use that. Also, September marks our 2nd Annual T-shirt & Hat sale. If you would like to purchase Shirt or Hat or make a generous donation go to our website. We appreciate all the help we can get. Take pictures in your shirts at your school, on the job, wherever you’re at and send them to us to post.

LAUREN: As far as supporters, we are looking for a permanent corporate sponsor. We’ve done a lot of collaborations with other organizations and we’ve received financial and product donations from many companies. However, our biggest supporter has been the United Auto Workers of America (UAW). Each year these wonderful men and women host our T-shirt and Hat sale. It’s because of our supporters we’ve been able to service thousands of students. So, thank you all and God Bless you for your purchases and generous donations!

RICARDO: THANKS FOR SHARING THIS MOMENT WITH US AR VOD. IT HAS BEEN AN ABSOLUTE PLEASURE INTERVIEWING YOU AMAZING LADIES. DO YOU HAVE ANYONE YOU’D LIKE TO THANK?

ABC: Of course, too many to name! First, we’d like to give all the praise and glory to God! Then we’d like to thank all the student participants, teachers, faculty members, volunteers, staffers, sponsors, everyone who has made a generous donation and contribution in support of ABC. And, last but certainly not least, a special thanks to You, Diane Bukowski and the entire VOD team. Without all of you believing in our cause and having faith in what we do… we couldn’t do it!

RICARDO: Once again. The ABC project is an evolving set of projects that provide avenues of hope, meaningful educational opportunities, and creative strategies that curtail intimidation, crush cruelty, and help to reduce senseless violence. The program demonstrates the potential for dynamic collaborations between students, facilitators, and other prominent figures of the community. Most importantly, through this unique exchange, the ABC Project seeks to deepen the dialogue -transform ways of thinking about being a bully, victim, or witness in society as a whole. ABC needs your support! This life changing program is definitely a game-changer when it comes to addressing the issue of -Bullying.

For more information about how you can keep up with the efforts of the ABC movement, win prizes, enter contests, show your support, donate, sponsor a workshop, and/or bring a workshop or seminar to your school or community, become directly involved as a volunteer or facilitator and become an independent fundraiser for ABC’s “Bully Free Safe Zone” Initiative. Visit the ABC website at: http://www.antibullycrusaders.org, or Facebook/AntibullyCrusaders or Instagram@Antibullycrusaders.

Writers note: Until the next time… Practice peace, tolerance and acceptance! Also, I am looking forward to contributing to ABC’s Newsletter by frequently submitting anti-bullying related articles for publishing. To Lauren, Alexis, and Patricia, keep being ABC’s phenomenal -Women Who Rock!

Ricardo… signing off!!

VOD staff writer Ricardo Ferrell has been a human rights activist behind the prison walls for decades. Write him!

Ricardo Ferrell #140701

Gus Harrison Correctional Facility

2727 East Beecher St. Adrian, MI 49221

 


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