Hundreds rally at the Michigan Treasury Building April 11, 2018 as part of the National Poor People’s Campaign.
To our readers: Voice of Detroit is published pro bono. You don’t have to pay to access our stories. But there are substantial out-of pocket costs associated with its publication. Currently we are running in the red, so any donation amount is much appreciated. Donate by clicking https://www.gofundme.com/VOD-readers-up. Also, visit our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/voiceofdetroit.net/where all new stories are linked. The links will take you to our actual website. To the right see the sidebar listing recent stories.
Herman Vallery II is at bottom right being interviewed during his family’s 20th anniversary memorial for his only child Lamar Grable, on Sept. 21, 2016. Others in photo include Lamar’s mother Arnetta Grable, Sr. in black and gray dress and Cornell Squires, Sr., at her left. The two preceded Val in death after lifetimes of struggle against police brutality and injustices inflicted on poor and working people. Val constructed all the signs at the right, which he and others carried for those 20 years.
MEMORIAL SET FOR MON. JUNE 18, 4-6 P.M. AT SWANSON’S , 806 E. GRAND BLVD. DETROIT
By Diane Bukowski
Lamar Grable, 20 when he was murdered by Detroit cop Eugene Brown with partner Vicki Yost Sept. 21, 1996
Herman Vallery II, affectionately known as “VAL” to his friends and family, passed away June 7, 2018 after a lifetime devoted to the struggle for the people. He was the father of Lamar Grable, his only child, who was shot to death by notorious Detroit killer cop Eugene Brown on Sept. 21, 1996. Brown killed three people without cause, and shot and wounded at least nine people.
Afterwards, Val joined with Lamar’s mother Arnetta Grable and her other children Aaron Grable and Arnetta Grable, Jr. in forming the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, which grew exponentially afterwards as police continued murdering Detroiters and others across the country. It preceded the founding of the national Black Lives Matter movement that swept the U.S. after the 2014 police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
Val was a jazz musician and motorcyclist as well as a stalwart fighter. He created numerous posters throughout the ten years of struggle for justice for Lamar, including one with a blow-up of the front page of the Michigan Citizen with the headline “SERIAL KILLER KOPS” about Brown. He organized tirelessly in the community, speaking at the Detroit City Council and Detroit Police Commission meetings. During that battle, he also lost “Dee Dee,” the love of his life, but he kept on fighting.
Members of the Original Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality at the April 28, 2015 protest against Terrance Kellom’s killing by police inside his father’s house. They are (l to r), Arnetta Grable, Jr., Butch Carrington, Arnetta Grable, Sr., Herman Vallery (father of Lamar Grable), and Cornell Squires.
He was never without fliers about his beloved son, and always wore a button with Lamar’s photo on his cap. Lamar Grable lived with Val at his home on Canton for several years before his death. Lamar had left his father’s home the night of Sept. 21, 2016 to attend a Police Athletic League (PAL) event with a friend at a nearby church. As he was returning across a vacant lot on Field St., Eugene Brown and his partner Vicki Yost unleashed a barrage of bullets at him, striking him eight times in the back and chest.
When the family’s civil suit finally came to trial years later, testimony elicited by Attorneys David Robinson and Melissa El demonstrated unquestionably that Brown and Yost shot Lamar thinking he was another man they were pursuing. Brown admitted on the stand that he “could have” shot Lamar three times in the chest as he lay on the ground, already wounded by gunfire to his back.
Val was sorely grieved by Arnetta Grable’s death Oct. 30, 2017. He said he spent many hours talking on the phone with her and he shared a friendly relationship with Aaron and Arnetta Jr. as well as other members of both their extended families. Val will be sorely missed by many, but his memory will live on in the continued battles for justice for Black and poor America.
Families display signs outside courthouse (l to r) Gabrielle and Dominique Harrison, Oct. 22 protester, Khalid Fareed, Roberto Guzman, unnamed, Gary of Oct. 22nd, Herman Vallery, Cornell Squires, unnamed, daughter of Taminko-Sanford-Tilmon at her left, Jermaine Tilmon, with grandson Omari.
Members of the Original Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality, including Herman Vallery (2nd from left) and Arnetta Grable (6th from left), outside Frank Murphy Hall to demand that Pros. Kym Worthy bring charges against Eugene Brown after the release of the “Shoulders Report” which recommended those charges. Worthy never did so.
Lamar Grable’s family and supporters flew this banner from the site of his murder on Field St. to downtown Detroit’s DPD and court HQ and back on Sept. 21, 2016.
Lewis convicted of police officer’s 1976 murder, sentenced to JLWOP
In 1975, white bar owner executed 18-yr. old Black youth, sentenced to 6 months in DeHoCo, 3 yrs. probation
Lewis’ atty. was campaign manager for anti-integration judge Thomas Poindexter; trial judge racist Joseph Maher
Lewis’ lost court files, blanked out Register of Actions still at issue; US, State Supreme Court precedents say case must be dismissed
DETROIT –Charles Lewis, 59, serving life without parole (i.e., death) in Michigan prisons since the age of 17, hopes to have his first real opportunity Tues. June 19 to expose the railroad that ended with his conviction of the murder of a white police officer during the racially volatile post-STRESS era in Detroit in 1976.
He says today of court proceedings in 1977, “It felt like I was sitting through my own lynching. When I stepped into the courtroom racism was the order of the day. White Power was in full effect.”
Lewis is asking all who support him and oppose the criminal injustice system that still flourishes in Detroit 42 years after his conviction, to pack the courtroom. He is one of 247 juvenile lifers still being held in state prisons despite two U.S. Supreme Court rulings declaring juvenile life without parole unconstitutional.
He will appear before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard in Rm. 5o2, at 9 a.m. for post-conviction hearings on four motions he filed himself.
Federal criminal defense attorney Sanford Schulman, who has visited Lewis twice at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan, is representing Lewis.
Lewis’ docketed motions are summarized in the box at left, and fully linked below this story.
Also outstanding is his June 23, 2017 Objection to an Order issued by Judge Lillard Nov. 11, 2016. She refused to honor State and U.S. Supreme Court precedents that mandate dismissal of criminal cases when the official court records are lost. She said last year that she would hear the issues in that Objection in upcoming hearings.
Numerous boxes of Lewis’ court files went missing sometime after 2012, when he filed a motion asking Judge Gershwin Drain to implement Drain’s earlier order of April 3, 2000 dismissing Lewis’ murder case after the state failed to hold a Pearson evidentiary hearing within 30 days as mandated.
Drain, whose daughter was then an Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor, denied he had anything to do with Lewis’ case, accused Lewis of forging the order, and hacking into the court’s Register of Actions, which is accessible only to the Wayne County Clerk and County Judges. Neither Lewis nor any other MDOC prisoner has access to the Internet.
That Register of Actions currently shows that Lewis was convicted by a jury on April 3, 2000 in front of Judge Gershwin Drain. Everything from 1976 on is missing.
Activist attorney Kenneth Cockrel Sr. called Maher a racist.
Recorder’s Court Judge Joseph Maher
Lewis, known to many friends as “K.K.,” was a gangly teen-ager weighing 150 lbs. when he was hauled into Detroit Recorder’s Court in March, 1977. He was charged with the murder of Gerald Sypitkowski, 27, a white off-duty Detroit police officer, on July 31, 1976, outside Oty’s Bar on Harper and Barrett.
He faced Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher, known for his failed attempt to disbar militant Black attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr., for calling Maher “a racist monkey, a honky dog, and a racist pirate,” outside of the courtroom during the trial of Alfred Hibbitt. Hibbitt was accused of killing a police officer when Detroit police attacked a meeting of the Republic of New Afrika held at the New Bethel Baptist Church in 1969.
Maher also facilitated the acquittal of Detroit officer Raymond Peterson, a member of the DPD S.T.R.E.S.S. unit, for one of 22 murders of unarmed men, mostly Black, during the early 1970’s.
Recorders Court Judge Thomas Poindexter
Attorney M. Arthur Arduin, Jr. was appointed to represent the teen. Arduin was once the campaign manager for Judge Thomas Poindexter, who headed the Greater Detroit Homeowners’ Council, devoted to keeping Blacks out of white neighborhoods. Arduin was also rumored to have ties to organized crime in Detroit.
Poindexter additionally became notorious for setting aside, and later dismissing, a jury verdict of “felonious assault” against white Detroit officers Jay Hammer and Charles Springer in the death of 27-year-old Leslie Wayne Armstrong, who was Black, in 1978. He said “race” affected the verdict.
The officers had stopped Armstrong for outstanding traffic warrants at Kercheval and Dickerson. Witnesses, including a reserve officer, said one later held Armstrong under his chin with a heavy police flashlight, while the other beat him with a second flashlight. He was pronounced DOA at Detroit General Hospital. Coroner Werner Spitz declared his death a “possible asphyxiation.”
Leslie Wayne Armstrong, killed by Detroit cops 1978
Detroit had just elected its first Black Mayor, Coleman A. Young, who had run against Police Chief John Nichols on a platform critical of racist police treatment of Blacks.
But the city remained in turmoil. The New York Times reported that in 1975, Detroit experienced 600 homicides, the last involving a cop killing a Black man because he refused an order to “halt.”
“At seventeen I was ald enough to know that being accused of killing a cop in Detroit was a death sentence,” Lewis recalls in a vivid life history he wrote shortly after his incarceration.
“The Detroit Police Department terrorized the black community in the fifties, sixties and seventies with brutal beatings and senseless murders. It was no secret in the hood that during the times when Detroit had the highest murder rate in the country, that most of the murders were committed by rogue police officers. Black males were routinely the victims of police brutality. Something as harmless as ignoring an officer’s command to walk to his squad car could get you killed.”
Obie Anthony Wynn, 18
A year before Sypitkowski’s killing, on July 28, 1975, a white bar owner named Andrew Chinarian shot Obie Anthony Wynn, 18, father of a two-year-old son, in the back of the head in the Bolton Bar’s parking lot, according to the coroner. Wynn’s friend Michael Brown watched. Brown said Chinarian then began beating Brown in the chest with his gun. Brown said other whites from inside the bar began forming a mob.
The killing touched off three days of rebellion by angry youth from across Detroit, who poured out into the neighborhood around Livernois and Chalfonte, throwing rocks and bottles and re-distributing the wealth by breaking into stores owned by the well-to-do.
Chinarian was charged with second-degree murder, but that was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor charge of careless and reckless use of a firearm resulting in death. Judge Leonard Townsend sentenced him to six months in DeHoCo, three years probation, and a $300 fine.
At the time, Lewis was living with his parents Rosie and Herbert Lewis and four younger siblings he often looked after, at 12631 Kilbourne St. on Detroit’s east side. His father worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and was frequently assigned out of town, while his mother worked at a General Motors plant.
“We were one of only two Black families living on that block at the time,” Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis recalled.
Lewis’ father Herbert Lewis was falsely accused of robbing a Farmer Jack at Gratiot and Bellevue on Oct. 6, 1972. But Lewis and his wife produced “employment records. . . proving beyond question that Lewis was in Oberlin, Ohio, working for the Federal Aviation Administration on October 6, 1972, the day of the robbery. The robbery charge was therefore dropped, and the criminal case was dismissed at the preliminary examination on March 30, 1973.” (See Lewis v Farmer Jack Division, Inc.327 N.W.2d 893.)
Rosie Lewis says police continued to harass their family after the charges were dropped and her husband sued the city, initially winning $40,000 in a jury verdict for “false arrest.
At the time of his arrest, Lewis was just short of graduation from Finney High School.
Finney High School then; it has since been demolished.
“Finney High School was a changing school in the early seventies,” Lewis wrote in his life history. “The once all-white school was giving way to busing and blacks. . . Some of the teachers didn’t want to change with the times. The teacher that I had for English Eight was one of those teachers.”
Lewis said the teacher stopped him the minute he entered his classroom to interrogate him. Lewis told the teacher he wanted to be a journalist, and work for the school paper and yearbook.
“Well, here is all you have to do,” the teacher told him mockingly. “Go to the gym during this period, go to the library, or hang out in the parking lot. Do anything but show up for class and you’ll get an ‘A’ from me.”
But Lewis became an accomplished writer and a reporter for various newspapers during his imprisonment. His voluminous pro se legal filings attest to his writing and analytical skills. He has earned a paralegal certificate among other degrees in prison.
Charles Lewis playing in prison band. His fellow musicians have extolled his musical talent, calling it “world-class.”
Lewis has told Judge Lillard and his previous attorneys that he has been “studying law since before you were born.” He currently works as a clerk at the law library at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, and has earned a certificate as a paralegal, among other certificates. He is well respected among many fellow prisoners for his assistance to them in their cases.
Lewis’ defense atty. did not call band members or audience to testify.
Willis X. Harris, editor of the Michigan Lifers Report, says that numerous prisoners call him about articles on the man they call “K.K.” expressing their respect for and gratitude to him for his leadership and assistance on legal and personal matters.
He was already an accomplished musician. At the age of 4, he began playing guitar, piano and other instruments, a child prodigy following in his maternal grandfather’s footsteps. Today, he hones that talent playing in prison bands, and writing and arranging music for concerts.
He says he was with a band called “Pure Pleasure” on the night of July 31, 1976, at the United Auto Workers Local 212 Hall, during the time Sypitkowski was killed. His defense attorney did not call members of the band or audience to testify as alibi witnesses. Lewis was looking forward to graduation, a possible athletic college scholarship, and a prosperous career in music.
Below, his mother reads testimony from Dennis Van Fleteren, Sypitkowski’s partner, given at Lewis’ trial in 1977. Van Fleteren and numerous others standing nearby saw Sypitkowski shot by the driver of a white Lincoln Mark IV, who was later arrested but released on the order of then Sgt. Gil Hill.
The video is by MacSpeaking and was done after an earlier court hearing on Lewis’ case. Please note that court date in video is not accurate. It was delayed numerous times until the upcoming hearing Tues. June 19, 2018 at 9 a.m.
Van Fleteren got the license number of the car, and police arrested its driver, Leslie Nathaniel. Their version of events was published in a Detroit Free Press article the next day, by reporters at the scene. It was also given at two trials in March and November, 1977.
Then Sgt. Gil Hill, however, told the reporters that Sypitkowski was not the victim of a “drive-by shooting.” Hill was later investigated by the FBI for alleged ties with organized crime and accused by FBI informant “White Boy Rick” of falsifying homicide reports. He passed in 2012.
Gil Hill in FBI surveillance photo conferring with known drug dealer Willie Volsan and Sgt. James Harris.
Although no eyewitness reported the presence of Black teens at the scene in the mainly white neighborhood when Sypitkowski was killed, Chief Investigative Officer Sgt. Marvin Johnson named Lewis, Jeffery Mulligan, 16, and Ronald Pettway, 16 as Sypitkowski’s killers in his report. Mulligan and Pettway’s names were later dropped as defendants after they agreed to testify that Lewis committed the murder. This was never revealed to Lewis’ jury.
According to Lewis’ homicide report, unidentified “confidential informants” named him and the others. They were never called to testify at his trials. Lewis and others believe the killing of Sypitkowski was a ‘hit’ ordered either by the mob or elements within the Detroit Police Department.
After his previous paid attorney withdrew from his case in a surprise hearing Jan. 31, 2018, Lewis filed four “pro se” motions. He says attorney Schulman has assured him he will get them on the record.
The motion to dismiss his case due to actual innocence refers in large part to an Aug. 16, 2006 opinion written by noted Third Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas. In that opinion, she upheld Lewis’ contentions that jury instructions by Judge Maher, which included a statement that he was “guilty” of another crime, were highly prejudicial and affected the jury verdict.
Judge Deborah Thomas
Only a small portion of Lewis’ first trial transcript exists in the files that Judge Lillard has said she may certify in order to move on with the prosecution’s motion for renewed juvenile life without parole.
However, Judge Thomas said that she “thoroughly” read the first trial transcript in 2006, and that she found no documentation of Maher’s reason for dismissing the jury in that first trial in March, 1977, or any motions by either prosecution or defense for a “mistrial” after the jury had deliberated for over a week. She said that meant that Lewis should have been considered acquitted, and not tried again, because that would have been “double jeopardy.”
Thomas also upheld Lewis’ contention that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when Recorders Court Judge Gerald Thomas fired defense attorney Rosemary Robinson after she won a Court of Appeals verdict ordering that a “Pearson” evidentiary hearing must be held at Lewis’ request. The attorney who represented Lewis at the hearing was not familiar with the issues in his case, and given only a short meeting with Lewis to prepare for the hearing. Witnesses Lewis wanted subpoenaed did not testify at the hearing.
Lewis’ motion regarding ineffective assistance of counsel relates to his trial attorney, Arthur Arduin, who essentially argued in his opening and closing statements that Lewis was guilty. Arduin characterized him as a member of a young Black “gang,” and said that the three Black juveniles who testified against him should also have been charged.
Robert McCoy, Louisiana death-row prisoner
The U.S. Supreme Court just overturned the conviction of death row prisoner Robert McCoy May 14, 2018, in McCoy v. Louisiana because his lawyer argued he was guilty, in an unsuccessful attempt to get the death penalty off the table. McCoy had argued strenuously with his attorney that he did not want to plead guilty.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, “The Sixth Amendment guarantees to each criminal defendant ‘the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.’ The defendant does not surrender control entirely to counsel, for the Sixth Amendment, in ‘grant[ing] to the accused personally the right to make his defense,’ speaks of the ‘assistance’ of counsel, and an assistant, however expert, is still an assistant.” The Court said the decision to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ falls entirely within the control of the defendant alone. See ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/McCoy-v-Louisiana-1.pdf
Lewis’ motion to strike the prosecutor’s attempt to re-sentence him to life without parole based on state statute MCL 769.25a argues that the action is ex post facto. He says he was already set for re-sentencing by Judge Edward Ewell in October, 2012, long before the controversial state statutes on re-sentencing juvenile lifers were effected in 2014. In fact, Ewell’s order was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court by 2013 after the prosecution challenged it.
Charles Lewis after class graduation in prison.
The Michigan ACLU has already won its case against a portion of MCL 769.25 which held that re-sentenced juvenile lifers would not be allowed to use “good time” credits in computing their time served. Both U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck that portion of the law.
Finally, Lewis is arguing that he is due a bond in his case, that he has been without an actual sentence since Ewell’s order in 2012, nearly six years, and also that Judge Lillard has now relinquished her right to re-sentence him because of the delay of more than one year.
Videos above: sitdown in front of MSHDA headquarters
Campaign takes direct action to end war on the poor across state and U.S.
Broad coalition of grass roots groups, unions, churches is rapidly building
Next action planned for Mon. April 18 at Central Methodist Church, Detroit
By Diane Bukowski
June 13, 2018
Young workers from #D15 constituted a large part of the march, drumming, chanting and dancing through the streets of Lansing.
LANSING – Well over 700 people flooded the streets of Michigan’s capital June 11, as part of the national Poor Peoples Campaign of direct action against the super-rich. They came from across Michigan, including two busloads from Detroit and another from Flint.
They included youth from #D15 demanding a $15/hr. wage for fast food workers, the disabled in wheelchairs, and AT&T union workers likely on the brink of a national strike.
Joining them were Detroit city retirees demanding the return of millions in pension and health care funds, Flint residents and others demanding the restoration of state-funded bottled water supplies and an end to water shut-offs, and Detroit homeowners demanding that federal Hardest Hit funds to be used to keep occupants in their homes, stop tax foreclosure auctions and shut down the Mike Duggan/Dan Gilbert scandal-ridden Blight Removal Task Force.
Flint resident demanding funding for water crisis.
They were angry and motivated by the announcement of state, city and county budget surpluses resulting from severe cutbacks in human services to pay off massive government debts to the banks. Michigan has a $575 million revenue surplus this year, which it has refused to spend to remedy the Flint water crisis.
The City of Detroit announced an unprecedented $63 million surplus resulting from drastic cuts to city retirees’ pensions and benefits, and the dumping of Detroit’s major assets during the false bankruptcy proceedings in 2014. Detroit’s debt to the banks increased 300 percent over its pre-bankruptcy level.
At the conclusion of a 1.7 mile march and two rallies that targeted the State Treasury Building and the headquarters of MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority), hundreds from the march, with youth from #D15 in the front lines, sat down to block the entrance to the MSHDA HQ.
The rally and sitdown outside MSHDA lasted for nearly an hour, as troopers lined up to guard the entrance, making it appear that no access to MSHDA officials contacted earlier for a meeting would be allowed.
Protesters mass outside the State Treasury Building in Lansing April 11, 2018.
But finally, amid cheers from the crowd, Yvonne Jones, leader of the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association (DAREA), Mike Shane and Jerry Goldberg of Moratorium Now!, and Abiyomi Azikiwe of the Michigan Emergency Committee on War and Injustice were ushered through the line of troopers into the building for a scheduled meeting at 4:15 p.m.
Meanwhile, however, troopers announced that all those remaining outside the building would be arrested if they did not leave.
Thirteen protesters were arrested, but they were released after receiving citations, in time to return to Detroit and Flint on the buses.
Shane said he and the other delegated members met with Earl J.Poleski, MSHDA Executive Director, and Mary Townley, Director of MSHDA Home Ownership to present demands outlined in a letter from Moratorium NOW! including:
A MSHDA amendment to provide $200 million in federal Hardest Hit Funds for the City of Detroit’s purchase of any occupied homes scheduled for tax foreclosure and evictions this fall;
The city would then turn the homes over to the occupants, including, owners, renters, or others who have just occupied the premises for shelter, based on affordability guidelines.
A program to ensure that the homes are tax assessed at their proper value instead of the exorbitant rates that have prevailed.
A program to ensure property tax exemptions are applied to eligible families.
A zero interest home repair revolving loan fund.
The payment of delinquent water bills for families whose water bills exceed the 2.5 % income guidelines recommended by the EPA, since water shut-offs effectively represent evictions.
Aurora Harris (center) joins Baxter Jones and another representative of the disabled caucus during initial rally at church. Jones, a long-time DPS teacher, lost his home after an accident that left him unable to work.
“Last year, about 2,000 occupied homes went to auction,” Shane told VOD. “If this program had been in effect then, it would have cost only $12 million. Our proposal would put money back into the City treasury to be used for blight elimination costs and other needs. We were on the brink of winning this proposal last year, but local politicians and others interfered.”
This time, Shane said, the MSHDA officials flat out refused to enact the demands.
Numerous speakers brought up other multiple issues faced by poor and working people in Michigan and across the U.S. during an initial rally at the First Presbyterian Church.
“I retired in 2012 after 38 years with the city,” Ray Smith of the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association (DAREA) said. “My monthly pension has been cut by $714.29 and I no longer have health care funding, part of the national attack on pensions across the U.S. The Detroit bankruptcy was a wake-up call because emergency managers appointed by Gov. Snyder targeted the state’s majority-Black cities.”
Shawn Kirkland of the Communications Workers of America
Shawn Kirkland, a staffer from the Communications Workers of America, said their union has been in negotiations with AT&T for the last three and a half months. The union currently is on the verge of a national strike.
“We are fighting for good jobs to stay,” Kirkland said. “After those enormous tax breaks Trump gave to wealthy corporations like AT&T, last year they had promised to bring 1500 jobs back. But instead this year AT&T has laid off 1500 workers.”
A representative of the Detroit People’s Platform called for massive public transit funding, one of the group’s many platform planks.
“Dan Gilbert took $74 million of public money and put it into a streetcar that goes nowhere,” he said, referring to the Q-Line. “Meanwhile, bus riders across the city are stranded. They can’t get to work, to school, to their medical appointments because city transit is underfunded.”
Dorothea Brown connected #D15’s demands for a $15/hr. wage to her transit problems.
“I have to work to support my three kids,” she said. “But I have to take three buses just to get to my job after I get them to school. We need change. If we all stand together, I believe we will win.”
Helen Moore and Teresa Kelly addressed the plight of schools in Detroit and Highland Park. Moore is featured in the video below.
This was the fourth and last “Moral Monday” action in Lansing. Organizers said it was by far the largest, indicating the campaign is growing as the grass roots begin to stem the tide of the all-out assault on working and poor people driven by the corporations and the banks, using Donald Trump and sell-out Democratic politicians as their puppets.
Members of the Detroit Peoples’ Platform call for justice for majority-Black Detroit.
The next action is set for Monday, June 18, beginning in the Central United Methodist Church at Woodward and Adams, in the heart of Detroit’s downtown which has been thoroughly gentrified for the benefit of the white and wealthy, led by billionaire Dan Gilbert.
Along with Moratorium Now, sponsors of Monday’s action included the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit Eviction Defense, the Detroit People’s Platform, the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association, the People’s Water Board, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), among others.
Related, including links to many of the groups in this action:
The video above is from the Lansing State Journal, taken during one of the poetry classes held Jan. 17, 2018 at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.
By Ricardo Ferrell
April 30, 2018
Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) expands poetry class to a group of inmates at the State’s oldest prison, the Michigan Reformatory making it the second adult facility to be offered such an initiative.
The MSU RCAH Free Verse Arts Poetry Slam Contest held on Monday, April 30, 2018, at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan, was a success.
Utilizing what they learned in various styles of writing poetry, e.g., Ghazel, Pantoum, Sestina, Haiku, etc. several inmates participated in the prison’s first poetry slam. They were allowed to perform their pieces in the chapel before fellow prisoners, MSU faculty, Reformatory’s Administration/Staff, and staff from the Handlon facility which is where the MSU Free Verse Arts Project began two years ago. Being afforded the opportunity to write out some of their thoughts presented many with new views and perspectives.
Michigan Reformatory at Ionia/ Photo by Grant M.
Topics ranged from the #MeToo movement, social justice issues, inadequate educational opportunities, mass incarceration, family, poor health care, poverty, and lifestyles back on the block.
Some came away feeling a new sense of meaning and purpose for their lives realizing that within them lies talent, skill, and potential. The creativity realized and explored by the prisoners was priceless because they’ve embraced the concept of wasted talent as being a thing of the past and they’re committed to moving forward and bringing out the best in themselves and becoming more meaningful and significant in their own lives as well as that of others.
The daily writing exercises and homework given by RCAH’s Instructor Guillermo Delgado were both fulfilling and definitely had a therapeutic value. In an environment where most men usually suppress, hide or camouflage their emotions and true feelings in an attempt to mask the pain and hurt they experienced before and during their incarcerations the 16 men who participated were willing to let down their guards, thus dissolving their rigid demeanors and allowing the moment of the poetry slam to give them a different lens by which to see themselves and those who were witnessing the humanity they demonstrated through their written expressions.
Guillermo Delgado MSU Academic Specialist/Photo courtesy of MSU
Some of the men who participated in today’s poetry slam had never composed a poem before while others experienced their first slam. Many in the audience stated they really enjoyed the program. Stephen Esquith, Dean of MSU’s RCAH expressed his satisfaction of the slam and mentioned to one of the participants how much he liked his piece and deliverance and they both discussed the possibility of more programming being offered by MSU to the Michigan Reformatory and other facilities.
Dr. Kevin Brooks, Arzelia Williams, and Katie Harger, all from Michigan State participated in the poetry slam making it all the more interesting. The panel of judges consisted of a combination of Ms. Leach (VPP), Ms. Laurie Bollinger (RCAH), Dean Stephen Esquith (RCAH) and two prisoners Milton & Walker.
We also had in attendance and gracing our presence; staff from the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, Jodie L. Heard, (CPC) and Vickie Ortiz, (CPC) they both were enjoying the slam from start to finish and excitedly applauded after each performance by the poetry slammers. Ms. Heard and Ms. Ortiz both are instrumental in orchestrating the MSU classes and programs over at Handlon, i.e., Poetry, Drama and My Brother’s Keeper.
First place: Sherman Wagner
Second place: Leroy ‘Luqman’ Harris
The Poetry Slam Contest winners; 1st) Sherman Wagner; 2nd) Leroy ‘Luqman’ Harris; and 3rd) Ricardo Ferrell, each delivered jaw dropping performances. Wagner spitted his piece metaphorically speaking to the gist of his story about the power women possess.
Harris shocked the consciousness of those listening with his dynamic rendition of his life story called ‘Prison’ speaking to his transformation. Ferrell (myself) meant to capture the audience’s attention by performing my joint called ‘Whatcha Gonna Do Now’ in the style of a spoken word trying to awaken those who are asleep. A. Smith, he delivered the fire; M. Reid-El’s poem ‘You’ had heads nodding feeling it; and open mic performances by Vinson, Davis and Lewis were an added plus to the slam.
Vinson’s ‘I Shed These Tears’ was the balance needed, and the other men in the class who shared are: M. Lewis; M. Williams; L. Pate; R. Whittenburg; D. Lumpkins-Bey; M. DeCosey; D. Bell; and B. Gaines. Among the prisoners in attendance watching everyone do their thing and showing support was Lee Glover and Edward Jones, both aspiring writers, “I hope to be afforded the opportunity to participate in the next class this fall,” said Glover. “Man, this was nice everyone did good, I’m glad that I came over,” stated Jones.
Thanks to the MC’s A. Davis & A. Shahideh and Music Artist – B. Grandion for the selections. Special Thanks/Acknowledgements: Dean Stephen L. Esquith; Prof. Guillermo Delgado; Dr. Kevin Brooks; Assistant Arzelia Williams; Katie Harger; Sahar Mahmood; Laurie Hollinger; Matthew Kulju; Jodie Heard; Vickie Ortiz; A/Warden Gregory Skipper; A/Deputy Warden James Miller; Dan Schafer, Rec. Dir.; Jen Houck, Classification Dir.; and Ms. Leach, VPP Coord.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street has introduced a bill to end LWOP sentences, which would make PA the first state in the nation to do so.
Mr. Schafer who actually coordinated the event said afterwards, “Guys this turned out great.” And, as a final note we should all be proud because this clearly shows how there are some of us who are engaging in positive and constructive self-help programs to better ourselves and at the same time setting an example for others to follow. The certificates and awards presented to the participants were a gesture by staff from Michigan State University expressing their appreciation to the men who participated in the poetry class and slam.
VOD editor’s note: our apologies to Sherman Wagner, Leroy Harris and Ricardo Ferrell for using their MDOC photos from OTIS, for lack of alternatives. All three men are serving life terms; their literary work as chronicled by Mr. Ferrell shows that the U.S., the only country in the world to have actual life without parole sentences, needs to abolish that heinous, inhuman practice. Everyone deserves a second chance; no one is irredeemable. To be serving LWOP and still striving to develop oneself as a model human being is an act of courage that is nothing short of astounding. Read about Pennsylvania Sen. Sharif Street’s introduction of a bill to end life without parole in that state at https://www.upi.com/Pa-lawmaker-aims-to-end-life-without-parole-sentences/6671522117906/.
Jackson College graduation ceremony at Parnall Correctional Facility. Jackson was one of many colleges in Michigan to offer Pell grants to prisoners under a federal pilot program. MDOC photo
By Ricardo Ferrell
An out-of-control corrections budget continues to contribute to the practice of keeping those within the system locked-up longer than necessary. Ask unpopular questions such as: What are some of the driving factors associated with over-incarceration? Why does the State of Michigan think it’s making communities safer by arbitrarily denying parole to those who no longer pose any significant danger to public safety? How can the MDOC, specifically the Michigan Parole Board, reform their draconian practices?
Perhaps by returning to a prison system which promotes rehabilitation inclusive of educational opportunities for all prisoners – whether that looks like GED programming for lifers and those serving long indeterminate sentences, skilled trades, higher education thru Pell Grants, or allowing more colleges & universities like Calvin College, Grand Rapids Community College, Davenport College, Montcalm Community College, Olivet College, Kellogg College, Wayne Community College, Jackson Community College, Albion College, Delta College, Northern Michigan University, Lake Superior State University, Central Michigan University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Ohio University to be expanded to more facilities which would provide opportunities for individuals to receive an education.
Studies have shown significant reductions in recidivism for those released who were afforded some educational opportunities during their incarceration. With acquiring some education the offender is placed in the more likely than not category to succeed after his or her release. Thus recidivism is reduced to right around 50 percent.
Therefore, it would seem that the Michigan Department of Corrections would be out front in the lead to better prepare those confined in correctional facilities to experience and benefit from what’s being currently offered by many of the College’s & Universities mentioned above. That is of course, if the MDOC wishes to get serious about reducing its prison population, its enormous budget, and contribute to making communities safer.
And, the question should be asked. What’s more important, saving money or saving people? Well, if you save people (offenders) then theoretically speaking you will save money, especially, with providing them with the tools they need such as: education, counseling, and a skilled trade to meet today’s demand in the workforce. Michigan not only can slash its enormously high corrections budget but also contribute to reducing recidivistic trends by focusing more on helping offenders succeed rather than inadvertently perpetuating their failure.
By leaving in place failed practices which have kept the corrections department behind other states that have actually taken a serious approach and initiative to reform their prison systems, Michigan will undoubtedly remain in virtually the same position and predicament we’ve seen for the last 40 years or more. Michigan and its Corrections Department have a perfect opportunity right now to become like its five lakes – Great!!!
Tax breaks and other incentives are given to companies and businesses that provide employment opportunities for returning citizens seeking to become a part of the workforce. Basic conditions of their parole require they obtain and maintain gainful employment. Considering the fact some 95 percet of those incarcerated will eventually be released; it seems both logically sound and economically feasible for the Michigan Department of Corrections to really put more of an emphasis on preparing those under its care with what’s essential for them to succeed and not become an alarming statistic due to not being given such a chance.
Common sense approaches demand a rational minded individual to do the right and practical thing like what’s being written here. Michigan taxpayers cannot be expected to keep fueling a broken MDOC engine by helping to pay its outrageously high $2.2 billion wasteful budget year in and year out. More emphasis on investment and providing educational opportunities for prisoners instead of throwing and pouring billions of dollars into a broken prison system would be a smart start.
Incarcerated individuals have gone from convicted felons paying their debts to society to Prison Industrial Complex commodities, costing taxpayers over $80 billion annually here in the United States. No other country on the globe incarcerates more of its citizens than that of the U.S. The U.S. has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its incarcerated population.
MICHIGAN COLLEGES LEADERS IN OFFERING PELL GRANTS TO PRISONERS
By Lindsay VanHulle (excerpt)
Crain’s Detroit Business
August 6, 2016
Jackson College, Michigan
LANSING — Several years ago, as administrators at Jackson College prepared to offer courses to inmates at a state prison, they weren’t optimistic about success.
The community college in Jackson County had educated inmates for decades, but stopped in the mid-1990s when a federal law change prohibited incarcerated students from receiving Pell Grants. This time around, administrators thought the first class of 18 prisoners paying their own way would be the most academically disadvantaged students they’d ever taught. They planned remedial courses and leveled their expectations.
That inaugural class in 2012 eventually grew to about 400 prisoners today, partly due to additional grants. Those students would not only raise the bar, but shatter it, said Todd Butler, the college’s dean of arts and sciences. Inmates make up about 3 percent of Jackson College’s part-time student population, Butler said, but 46 percent of the part-time dean’s list. Their success rate on their first attempt at completing a developmental math class is near 100 percent, compared to 54 percent of on-campus students.
Butler said instructors attribute the difference in part to a noticeably strong work ethic among incarcerated students.
Mott Community College
“It’s that moment when we begin to pull (back) that curtain of our own imagination,” Butler said, “and say, ‘I didn’t realize that this level of potential existed.’?”
Jackson College has been a leader among higher education institutions in Michigan in teaching prisoners while they’re behind bars. Offering college classes in prison is one piece of a broader approach within state corrections departments nationally — and particularly in Michigan — to try to increase inmates’ employment opportunities post-release and lessen the chances they’ll get locked up again.
The college is one of three in Michigan, and more than 60 across the country, to be chosen to participate in a U.S. Department of Education pilot program that will waive restrictions on federal Pell Grants for prisoners in order to find out whether more prisoners will pursue education if they have financial assistance. Jackson College was slotted for 1,305 Pell Grants, more than any other selected college or university in the nation, according to the department.
Mott Community College in Flint and Delta College near Bay City also were chosen to participate.
Michigan is second only to Texas in the total number of Pell Grants received, at 1,475. The three schools will teach students at a number of state prisons, including the Detroit Re-entry Center on Ryan Road and Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, according to the federal government.
VOD Editor’s Note: Why don’t Michigan’s top universities like Wayne State, UofDMercy, Grand Valley State, and others located in cities with high incarceration rates, request these grants for prisoners? Instead, county prosecutors are focused on keeping 247 of the state’s juvenile lifers behind bars until they die, in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana.
Police murdering, molesting, and framing up Black citizens
Berrien County prosecutor Sepic has recommended that all 100 of the county’s “juvenile lifers” be re-sentenced to LWOP, violating U.S. Supreme Court decisions
Juvenile Lifers for Justice leader Efren Paredes, Jr. of Benton Harbor fights back
By Diane Bukowski
Including special video presentation by Mac Speaking (Leona McElvene)
May 30, 2018
Benton Harbor—Rev. Edward Pinkney, home from two and one half years in prison, and supporters from Chicago, New York, and Columbus, Ohio joined with the people of Benton Harbor Sat. May 26 to celebrate the Michigan Supreme Court’s reversal of Pinkney’s fraudulent conviction May 1. Standing on the steps of the Benton Harbor City Hall, they chanted “FIGHT BACK” against the corporate takeover of their city by Whirlpool, the racist police state and courts, the destruction of the city’s public education system, and the city’s 49.2 percent poverty rate.
Many youth attended the rally May 26, an increase from numbers at earlier demonstrations.
The rally was held as hundreds of wealthy golfers and fans, 99 percent white, descended on this 86 percent Black town to watch the 77th Senior PGA Tour held at the luxurious Harbor Shores Jack Nicklaus golf course, which abuts the city’s gorgeous Lake Michigan beaches off Jean Klock Park. The park is publicly-owned land, but Whirlpool and its subsidiary Kitchen Aid have claimed it and the surrounding areas for the golf course and multi-million dollar housing development.
“OCCUPY THE PGA,” the rally theme, became “police occupy the PGA,” as squadrons of Benton Harbor and Berrien County police turned marchers back from any downtown outlet approaching the golf course. “Parking for the PGA” signs were posted everywhere as travelers entered, even in the poorest stretches of this state’s poorest city.
Whirlpool long ago closed its plants in Benton Harbor, depriving residents of their main source of jobs, and then seized publicly-owned assets, with the help first of the state’s Emergency Manager law, then with the continued collaboration of “elected” officials. Pinkney was targeted as he led a campaign to recall the mayor. Prosecutors produced no evidence that he had altered several dates on a recall petition, but an all-white jury convicted him anyway. He was sentenced to 2.5 to 10 years in prison, but was released after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that he had violated no law.
Speakers at the rally included family members of two young men murdered by Berrien County police in 2016, Martell Walker-Hadley, 26, and Darius Wimberly, 28.
Walker-Hadley’s mother LaDona Walker-Hadley addressed the crowd demanding justice for her son, who died Feb. 27, 2016 at the age of 26 in the Benton Harbor jail. Police alleged the father of a two-year-old son hung himself after he was arrested for “fleeing and eluding” police, and sentenced to one to two years in prison. But the family insists that Martell was murdered.
His mother noted that a second autopsy showed he had blunt force trauma to his chest in addition to the presence of suspicious chemicals in his system, not consistent with the official autopsy results of “asphyxiation.
Darius Lamar “Karate” Wimberly, 28, was killed Oct. 18, 2016 by Benton Harbor police, who alleged he fired at them, on Pavone St., only a block away from the site where Benton Harbor youth rose up against police killings in 2003, carrying on a rebellion for three days.
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic cleared the cop who killed Wimberly. Sepic also prosecuted Rev. Pinkney and has recommended that all 100 of Berrien County’s “juvenile lifers” be re-sentenced to life without parole. Sepic and most other county prosecutors in Michigan are thus in violation of two Supreme Court rulings outlawing juvenile life without parole as unconstitutional.
Darius ‘Karate” Wimberly
Wimberly’s mother spoke at the rally, saying neighborhood residents wanted to rise up again after police killed her son, but that she asked them not to do so because police would kill others. She said although police claimed Wimberly fired two guns at them, there was no gunshot residue on his hands.
A friend of his, Canvas Smith, earlier told Benton Harbor’s TV 16, “This was really brutal, like really, because if it was that bad, no officer got shot…nobody’s hurt. You just got a dead body. I do know the whole investigation sounds like a load of crap. If he was trying to shoot and kill somebody, why was he the only one that got shot? No other officer was hurt. Haven’t said anything about there was a bullet hole in the car anything. Just that he’s dead out on the street and they didn’t even have the decency to call the fire department or anyone to wash his blood up. His family had to get out there and wash the blood up. They treated it like it was nothing.”
Rev. Pinkney addressed the ongoing police war against the people in Benton Harbor, including drug frame-ups of 300 men and molestations of 20 women in the city, as seen below.
A speaker from Chicago said that so-called “gang” members are trying to come together there in order to stop killing each other and direct their anger at the forces that are impoverishing Black and Latin neighborhoods in Chicago and throughout the country.
The crowd then began a silent march led by a coffin symbolizing the death of Benton Harbor, but were immediately turned back by Berrien County and Benton Harbor police at every access point that would have led to the golf course. In 2012, Pinkney led the march through the city’s streets all the way to the gates of Harbor Shores and the golf course.
BELOW: SPECIAL VIDEO PRESENTATION BY MAC SPEAKING.
Video recorded on Saturday, May 26, 2018duringthe “Occupy The PGA – Mass Demonstration: To Save Our Children” Rally andSilent Walkevent, featuring Rev. Edward Pinkney(Civil Rights Leader, former Michigan Political Prisoner), Minister Kuhgangah Ashe’ (Human Rights Activist, United Nations), David L. Lowery, Jr. (Founder, Living and Driving While Black Foundation, Inc.), LaDonna Walker (Mother of the late Martell Walker Hadley), Ayanna Johnson(Mother of the late Darius L. Wimberly aka “Karate”), Ralph Poynter (Civil Rights Activist, and Widower of the late Attorney Lynn Stewart), George Lyons(Attorney at Law), Juanita Henry(Commissioner, Benton Harbor, MI); and othersat Benton Harbor City Hall located in Benton Harbor, MI.
Below, Efren Paredes, Jr., one of the county’s juvenile lifers who is a leader of Juvenile Lifers for Justice and was arrested in Benton Harbor at the age of 15, recounts his recent experience at Oaks Correctional Facility.
By Efren Paredes, Jr., Juvenile Lifer from Benton Harbor
Efren Paredes Jr. with family
The afternoon of 5/15/18 I was conducting legal research in the law library at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF). A short time after my arrival Librarian Leah Berean called me to a law clerk desk as she stood behind it. When I approached the desk she proceeded to tell me she was denying the request for additional legal research time I submitted the previous day. She remarked in a rude and condescending manner, “You were already given an additional two-hour session each week. It’s my discretion and you’re not getting any more time!”
When I asked if she could provide her decision to me in writing so I could file a grievance in response to her denial she became irate and snarled, “No, you can write it down if you want to!” She then walked away from the desk and returned to her office, offering me no explanation for her decision. Approximately 25 minutes later Berean returned to the law clerk desk bringing along with her my request for additional time which now included a handwritten response she signed. Her response read in relevant part, “Due to custody and security concerns this is the only amount of additional time the library can give you.”
OP ECF 05.03.115 “Use of Law Library by General Population Prisoners,” authorizes librarians to grant additional time to prisoners to conduct legal research who are within 60 days of a verified court deadline. I provided a court order to the librarian verifying that I have a pending court hearing scheduled within that timeframe.
The policy also states, “The Department of Corrections recognizes the constitutional right to access to the courts. Therefore, the Oaks Correctional Facility shall not prohibit, restrict or deny prisoners in the general population access to the main law library wherein prisoners can use an Electronic Law Library (ELL) and other legal research documents for legal research purposes related to challenging a prisoner’s conviction or conditions of confinement.”
In my request for additional research time I stated that a great deal of my legal research involves reading dozens of peer-reviewed law journal articles regarding adolescent development, fMRI brain imaging studies, and other mitigating factors related to my upcoming resentencing hearing. There are hundreds of these articles I need to review in a short span of time which is an impossible undertaking given the time I am currently authorized to conduct legal research in the law library.
I pointed out that I have paid to have several of the peer-reviewed journal articles photocopied so I can read them in my cell but cannot afford to have them all reproduced. This was the reason I was requesting additional legal research time. Though I was authorized to receive two additional hours a week it will be insufficient to conduct all the necessary research before my next scheduled court hearing. The articles I need to research frequently exceed 30 pages in length (sometimes up to 70 pages) and I am often unable to read an entire article during a single two-hour law library session and take the necessary handwritten notes which itself is a time-consuming task.
I even offered to provide her evidence of the many pages of notes I have already taken from the articles I read each week. I am currently being limited to six hours of legal research per week to prepare for arguably the most important court hearing of my life. [Efren is referring to the “mitigation hearing” he and others who face prosecutor’s revived recommendations for LWOP].
My request for additional legal research time was for two additional hours during regularly scheduled hours on the weekend which would not have prevented other prisoners from using any of the available computers. The law library has 15 computers available for prisoners to conduct legal research with which provide access to LexisNexis, a legal research portal. Less than a third of the computers are used at any given time when Level II prisoners are permitted to use them.
The notion that allowing a prisoner to use one of the idle computers for legal research triggers a “custody and security concern” is delusional and absurd. More than double the number of Level IV custody prisoners use the law library computers than the number of Level II lower custody prisoners for legal research each day during their scheduled time and it is not deemed a “custody and security concern” by custody staff or the Warden. Since Berean’s reasoning for her denial is obviously false and baseless it begs the question: what was her true motive?
Later that day after speaking to Berean I showed two custody staff members her response to my request for additional legal research time. When I asked the staff members if they felt my request was a “custody and security concern” they shook their heads and laughed. One replied, “No. What does she know about custody and security, she just started working here. Plus, people hardly even use the law library and there are always computers open to use.” The other responded, “She sounds ridiculous. When a prisoner is doing legal research and trying to go home at least he’s doing something constructive and isn’t on the yard bothering anyone or getting into trouble. You should write a grievance.”
Berean’s distorted reasoning for denying my request to be granted additional legal research time is arbitrary and a clear abuse of authority. It is divorced from reality, illogical, and provides a snapshot into what she thinks about prisoners using the law library to conduct legal research. It also demonstrates she may be ill-equipped with the temperament, social skills, or decision-making capacity to properly fulfill her job duties.
Warden Lester Parish at right.
Even other staff members agreed that her decision to deny me additional research time was irrational. Her actions stain the image of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and interfere with prisoners’ rehabilitation. When MDOC staff members subvert policy and devalue prisoners’ lives they send a chilling message that their future is devoid of meaning. There is little wonder why prisoners often return to society frustrated, demoralized, and battling anxiety having been forced to endure the exhausting experience of repeated instances of staff engaging in microaggressions and abusing their power.
Since his recent arrival at ECF Warden Lester Parish has laudably begun transforming the culture of the prison from its shameful past of mismanagement and hostility toward the prisoners in its care to a culture that promotes the MDOC’s vision and values policy. Staff members like Berean threaten to destabilize this progress. Her actions are evidence of a belief that prisons should be monuments to punishment and exclusion which contravene the Warden’s proactive efforts.
This episode is only one among the many examples of unfortunate challenges prisoners are forced to deal with as they navigate the minefield of staff abusing their power in prison daily life. Fabricating unreasonable excuses to obstruct a prisoner’s access to the courts rises to the level of a civil rights violation. Sadly it is not the first time a prisoner has been compelled to challenge similar injustices in federal courts.
There is a long history of prisoners litigating against MDOC staff members for their refusal to recognize fundamental constitutional rights. In a civil suit recently filed by a prisoner challenging a violation of his constitutional rights by an MDOC employee a federal judge ruled that MDOC staff members are not impervious to civil litigation because they simply claim immunity. The court added that staff members are not able to enrobe themselves in an absolute shield against legal action brought against them for violating constitutionally protected conduct.
Unfortunately it is taxpayers who keep bearing the burden of paying the costs associated with litigation resulting from the obstinate behavior of prison staff members who are allowed to engage in unconstitutional behavior. The moment taxpayers refuse to continue paying for their misdeeds it will change their behavior. When state employees begin paying their own legal fees to defend themselves for offending protected constitutional rights they will become less impetuous to entertain their darker impulses. It is a prospect taxpayers should consider exploring.
(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner, social justice activist, and blogger who is a frequent guest on the “Elena Herrada Show” on Detroit Superstation AM 910. You can learn more about Efren at www.4Efren.blogspot.com and www.fb.com/Free.Efren.)
“One of 10 death sentences in Louisiana since 2000 that have been tainted with the same flaw”
“Decision to maintain one’s innocence falls within the category of decisions reserved for the defendant” — USSC
VOD: Some have estimated conservatively that at least 20 percent of Michigan’s 343 juvenile lifers are innocent. Many were represented by court-appointed attorneys, some of whom argued they were guilty, because their families could not afford paid counsel. They were falsely convicted after corrupt police and forensic testimony.
County prosecutors have recommended renewed life without parole sentences for at least 247 of them, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 and 2016 that mandatory juvenile life without parole is retroactively unconstitutional, and that “only the rarest child” should die in prison.
Unfortunately, many current court-appointed attorneys, have refused to argue innocence claims, saying that the re-sentencings do not allow for such arguments. The McCoy v. Louisiana case strongly makes the point that a lawyer is OBLIGATED to argue innocence if that is what the client wishes.
USSC Justices who voted to overturn McCoy conviction are shown in color. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsbury wrote the majority opinion.
[NOTE: This post was updated with additional analysis at 4:18 p.m.]
This morning the Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana inmate’s death sentence because the inmate’s lawyer – hoping to save his client’s life – had told the jury that the inmate was guilty, even though the inmate had expressly objected to that strategy. The 6-3 ruling reiterated that the Constitution gives a criminal defendant the fundamental right to make decisions about his defense and therefore bars a defense lawyer from going against his client’s instructions, even when the lawyer’s defense strategy might seem perfectly reasonable.
Attorney Larry English
The decision came in the case of Robert McCoy, who in 2011 was on trial for the shooting deaths of his estranged wife’s son, mother and stepfather. McCoy clashed with his public defenders, so his parents hired a private attorney, Larry English, to represent him. McCoy insisted that he was innocent and was being framed in retaliation for revealing that local police were involved in a drug ring, but English believed that the evidence against his client was “overwhelming.”
So English first encouraged McCoy to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence; as McCoy’s trial approached, English told McCoy that he planned to tell the jury that McCoy had committed all three murders, in the hope that doing so would convince the jury to sentence McCoy to life in prison, rather than death. McCoy was furious, but English went ahead with his plan, telling the jury that McCoy was “crazy” and “lives in a fantasy world.”
English’s strategy failed: The jury found McCoy guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. State courts in Louisiana upheld McCoy’s conviction and death sentence, rejecting his argument that English’s decision to admit McCoy’s guilt, despite McCoy’s objections, violated the Constitution. Today the Supreme Court, in a relatively brief (13-page) decision by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ordered the Louisiana courts to give McCoy a new trial. (See full ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/McCoy-v-Louisiana.pdf .)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsbury wrote the McCoy opinion.
The majority acknowledged that English found himself “in a difficult position: he had an unruly client and faced a strong government case.” And it was reasonable for him to believe that he should try to avoid a death sentence for McCoy. But, the majority explained, even when a defendant is represented by an attorney, he does not give up all control over his case to the attorney.
A criminal defendant’s lawyer may be responsible for what the court described as “trial management” – for example, what evidence to object to and what arguments to pursue – but the defendant himself has the sole right to make some decisions, such as whether to plead guilty or to waive the right to a jury trial. The decision to maintain one’s innocence, the court reasoned, falls within the category of decisions reserved for the defendant: If the defendant tells his attorney that “the objective of ‘his defence’ is to maintain innocence of the charged criminal acts,” the court continued, the attorney must follow that instruction and cannot “override it by conceding guilt.”
This means, the majority concluded, that once English knew that McCoy objected to his proposed strategy of admitting McCoy’s guilt to the jury, it was not English’s place to override McCoy’s objection.
Prof. Rory Little
The majority went on to rule that this violation of McCoy’s rights falls within the category of errors known as “structural” – violations that, as criminal law expert Rory Little has explained, “are so fundamental and difficult to quantify” that a defendant does not need to show that they changed the outcome of a trial. The justices explained that, in McCoy’s case, English’s insistence on conceding McCoy’s guilt even after McCoy had objected blocked McCoy’s “right to make the fundamental choices about his own defense.”
Moreover, they added, “the effects of the admission would be immeasurable, because a jury would almost certainly be swayed by a lawyer’s concession of his client’s guilt.” Therefore, the majority concluded, McCoy is entitled to a new trial, without having to show that he was harmed by English’s strategy.
One of McCoy’s attorneys hailed today’s decision, declaring that, although “rare in the rest of the country, what happened to Mr. McCoy was a part of Louisiana’s broken criminal justice system that fails to respect individual human dignity. Mr. McCoy’s was one of ten death sentences imposed in Louisiana since 2000 that have been tainted with the same flaw.”
Louisiana protest vs. state injustice system; Louisiana and Michigan have been called the two worst states in the U.S. regarding their treatment of juvenile lifers.
Justice Samuel Alito dissented, in an 11-page opinion that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch; he would have left the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the state (and, by extension, McCoy’s death sentence) in place. Alito maintained that the majority had gotten the issue at the heart of the cases wrong: English had not argued that McCoy was guilty of first-degree murder, but had instead told the jurors that although McCoy had killed the three victims, he was not guilty of first-degree murder because he hadn’t intended to kill them, as first-degree murder convictions require.
But in any event, Alito continued, the right described in the court’s opinion today “is like a rare plant that blooms every decade or so”: Among other things, it is only likely to surface in capital cases in which defendants are acting irrationally by contesting their guilt despite overwhelming evidence, and in which lawyers continue to represent those defendants even though they cannot agree with their clients on their strategy. “In short,” Alito concluded, “the right that the Court now discovers is likely to appear only rarely, and because the present case is so unique it is hard to see how it meets our stated criteria for granting review.”
DEMONSTRATE IN BENTON HARBOR MAY 26, 2018, 11 A.M.
FREE MICHIGAN’S JUVENILE LIFERS!
By the People’s Tribune Editorial Board
Below: Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report interviews Rev. Pinkney
In a victory for the people in the fight against naked corporate power and defending democracy, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled 6-0 that Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was improperly charged with five felony counts of election forgery in 2014 by the Berrien County prosecutor, that he was improperly tried and sentenced by the Berrien County Circuit Court, and improperly served 30 months in prison as a result.
Rev. Edward Pinkney speaks out against Whirlpool’s corporate takeover of Benton Harbor, and Snyder’s Emergency Manager law May 26, 2012.
In overturning Pinkney’s conviction, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the statute he was sentenced for supposedly violating did not create any substantive criminal offense at all, but was merely a sentencing provision for other election forgery offenses which Rev. Pinkney was not charged with. The state Supreme Court ruling marked a rebuke of the Michigan Court of Appeals, which had ruled against Pinkney.
The People’s Tribune congratulates Rev. Pinkney, the people of Benton Harbor and his supporters across the country on this victory. Rev. Pinkney has been a leader of the struggle against the corporate dictatorship in Benton Harbor and Michigan for many years.
The Whirlpool Corporation dominates Benton Harbor, and Pinkney has been in the forefront of the fight against Whirlpool’s efforts to take over the Lake Michigan beachfront property and public parks in Benton Harbor for private profit.
He has also defended democracy in the fight against the dictatorial emergency manager system imposed by the state in Benton Harbor and elsewhere in Michigan. The emergency manager system opens up cherished public assets such as land and even water to be handed over to the corporations. Rev. Pinkney continues to fight police repression in Benton Harbor, and he helps local people have their rights respected in court.
The assault on democracy in Benton Harbor
Rev. Pinkney, with wife Dorothy in front, is supported in his Detroit court battle to retain leadership of Benton Harbor NAACP.
When Rev. Pinkney stood up for Benton Harbor, corporate power used the race card to try and shut him up and to destroy democracy in the town. Benton Harbor, a poor Black community, could be easily isolated. An all-white jury from affluent towns was selected to judge Pinkney; jurists had not lived under the oppression of emergency management where corporate officials replace elected officials.
During the trial, the prosecution admitted there was no physical evidence linking Rev. Pinkney to the crime they were charging him with. And yet the prosecution repeatedly introduced examples of Rev. Pinkney exercising his First Amendment right to free speech, political activities and community activism as evidence he committed the crime.
The corporations thus set the stage to destroy democracy in all of Michigan, and then throughout the United States. The race question has historically been used by the powerful in America to divide and conquer the working class. Today, racial division is one of the main weapons being used to impose fascism on all of us. To win this war we must take this historic weapon of race away from the enemy, and fight for the political as well as economic rights of all Americans.
Rev. Pinkney (r) speaks at first mass rally in Detroit against what became Public Act 4, the emergency manager law. Photo: Dale Rick
The attack on democracy and Rev. Pinkney’s conviction symbolizes an entire process under way in America. The once stable working class community of Benton Harbor has been devastated by automation and globalization. Today, the former industrial workers have become the marginally or permanently unemployed, and the open rule of corporate power is arising to oppose their struggle. The governing bodies that once controlled us by buying up the people’s leaders now turn to intimidation and brute force. The corporate attack launched on Benton Harbor is now being repeated in one form or another across Michigan and the country.
Benton Harbor shows that the corporations have continued to escalate their control over the government. That is the foundation of American fascism. They see the little democracy that still remains in our country as an obstacle to their rule. They are determined to destroy it before the deteriorating economic conditions kick the people awake.
Rev. Pinkney asks that everyone continue the boycott of Whirlpool, as well as the Harbor Shores development, and the Sr. PGA held at its golf course, all backed by Whirlpool.
A major battle has been won, but the war is not over. Fascism consolidates down below—by gaining victory after small victory until it has the base for the “important” struggles. This is why it is so important that the revolutionary and democratic forces learn to confront fascist, corporate power at every turn.
From time to time an attack against democracy is so blatant that it symbolizes the entire process. This is the importance of the victory in Benton Harbor. The only way we’re going to ultimately achieve democracy is if the people control the necessities of life. True democracy is the rule of the people. People can’t rule if they’re living in the streets or working two jobs just to survive. If you control the necessaries of life, you are a free person. There’s only one solution. We have to build a huge movement to take over the corporations and run them in the interest of humanity.
The defense of our leaders is critical to building such a movement. The case of Rev. Pinkney and Benton Harbor shows the importance of the American people taking a stand before it is too late. People rallied in support of Rev. Pinkney because of the injustice and also because he exhibited the characteristics of a new kind of leader, one that cannot be bought off or side tracked from a consistent fight for the needs of the people. When leaders like Rev. Pinkney come under attack, we must defend them. A movement that does not defend its leaders cannot grow.
The People’s Tribune has covered this fight from the beginning. We urge our readers to take this newspaper out and help awaken America. Learn more about the history of the Benton Harbor struggle by ordering copies of the People’s Tribune pamphlet Benton Harbor, MI: Fighting the Corporate Dictatorship in America’s Rust Belt. To order, email email@example.com or call 800-691-6888. A $4 donation is suggested for each pamphlet.
Rev. Pinkney is available to speak. To schedule him as a speaker, contact: Speakers for a New America at 800-691-6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org/
VOD: We spoke briefly with Rev. Pinkney May 21, asking him about 40,000 Michigan prisoners still left behind in the state’s concentration camps. Experts say at least 30 percent are innocent, as in the case of Charles Lewis, and another 50 percent did not get fair trials. At least 70 percent are people of color.
Efren Paredes, Jr.
Charles K.K. Lewis
Still languishing in prison are 247 Michigan juvenile lifers, out of 363, in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). These rulings held that juvenile life without parole is unconstitutional, “cruel and unusual” punishment, and that “only the rarest” child should be sentenced to die in prison.
Among them is Efren Paredes, Jr., one of Berrien County’s 100 juvenile lifers. Berrien County Prosecutor Eric Sepic, who also prosecuted Pinkney, has recommended that all 100 of the County’s juvenile lifers be re-sentenced to die in prison.
Federal troops must be sent to Michigan to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decisions and liberate Michigan’s child lifers, just as they were sent to Southern schools to enforceBrown v. the Board of Education.
If you want to be published on VOD, please submit your articles, etc. to email@example.com.
Call 313-825-6126 to alert us.
DONATE TO VOD
VOD's previous Go Fund Me donation button is not functional anymore. But put "Donate to VOD" in the search engine and, a post will come up with the link to our Go Fund Me page, which is still working. Thank you for your support!