I love the newspaper. I have always loved it. I'm talking about the paper paper with pages so big, you'd better sit down at a table to spread it out so you can read it. I subscribe to two newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. I believe that poring over giant page after giant page of newsprint day after day gives me my best chance of understanding what is actually going on in the world.
Thomas Jefferson famously said,
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have
a government without newspapers
or newspapers without a government,
I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
and I have always tended to agree with him.
The June 27 edition of the New York Times does validate Jefferson's faith. Two articles in the first section, taken together,helped me grasp the deep hold white supremacy has on our criminal "justice" system.
ONE DAY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES:
FRIDAY, JUNE 27, 2020:
The first story is about the suffering inflicted by the criminal "justice" system on Black men.
A man was murdered on a street in Queens in 1994. Samuel Brownridge spent 25 years in prison for the murder of that man. He was jailed in 1995 at the age of 20 and came out this year, when he was 45 years old. At Brownridge's exoneration hearing, he was declared "actually innocent." I use quotes because this is an official legal concept. It means that Brownridge isn't just Not Guilty.
"Actually innocent" means that there is no possibility that Samuel Brownridge murdered Darryle Adams on that night. There was no justification in the "justice" of his conviction:
The evidence that convicted him was totally compromised. For one example, one witness told police, immediately after the murder, that the gunman had a fade haircut (ie short). Later, under pressure from the same police, he identified Brownridge, who had a medium-length afro, as the killer. Now, you CAN commit a crime with a medium afro and cut your hair right away to a fade. But you CANNOT commit a crime with a fade and immediately grow an Afro.
Brownridge had a very strong alibi: He was watching television with his girlfriend and her mother 30 minutes away from the crime scene at the time of the murder. The women were never called to testify.
When Brownridge appealed his sentence after five years in prison, three men present at the murder (including the fade/afro man) were willing to testify that he was NOT there and to name the actual murderer. But their official testimony never took place.
The evidence that another man was the murderer is so overwhelming that Brownridge's lawyer described it as "beyond a shadow of a doubt." That criminal was killed in a shoot-out with police in 2002, having murdered two more people in the interim.
The only evidence linking Brownridge to the murder was perjured testimony given under pressure from the police. Samuel Brownridge never should have been questioned, never should have been arrested, never should have been tried, and never should have been convicted. But no one in the criminal justice system seemed to care that they had the wrong man. And not only did Brownridge, and all who loved him, suffer. Two more people were murdered by the man who killed Darryle Adams.
A black man had murdered someone, and the D.A. put a black man in prison for the crime. Anyone have problems with that? Apparently not in Queens, New York. We're not talking Mississippi here, folks. We're talking New York City.
In his entire 25 years in prison, Samuel Brownridge fought to prove his innocence. At every level -- local, state and federal -- his plea was unheard.
As Judge Joseph Zayas said at his exoneration hearing, “Mr. Brown-ridge, the miscarriage of justice in your case was monumental. It is therefore no surprise that large segments of our city and our country have grave doubts about our criminal justice system and its ability to deliver equal and fair justice to all. Cases like yours demonstrate that their anger is justified. Their anger is legitimate.”
There is a video of the entire half-hour exoneration hearing, which took place on Zoom, and I urge you to watch it. It is both terrible and beautiful. Terrible because of the 25 years Sam Brownridge lost. Beautiful because the judge and lawyer treated him respectfully, gently, even tenderly. They attempted to acknowledge the enormity of the injustice done him. At the same time, they said they knew they could never understand what he had been through. They actually tried to make this legal hearing a healing experience for Brownridge.
When Brownridge was too overwhelmed with emotion to speak, the judge said, "Mr. Brownridge, listen, we will take as long a time as you need. So don’t feel you have to rush through this. I know you just mentioning your mom was hard for you. Don’t worry about that. I want to listen to you, and I’m sure I speak for everyone on this call today. So if you need to pause, to take a break, wait a minute, we’ll wait for you."
The judge cried for the great injustice that had been done.
Samuel Brownridge cried that his mother had not lived to see him declared innocent.
"It's something you never will forget: years of my life, years of being a son,
a father, a husband, plenty of years and opportunities in life that I missed.
I was innocent. I can't just lay down."
His lawyer, Donna Aldea, cried when she spoke of her client's grace and courage: "Sam, I am blessed to have met you. You’re a better person than I could have been in your shoes.”
You may well ask: How did Brownridge's exoneration finally come about?
Attorney Donna Aldea worked for three years to put together the evidence to overturn his conviction. Her law firm paid her salary while she did this work.
Queens elected a new District Attorney, Melinda Katz, who organized a Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate cases such as this.
I don't think it's coincidental it was two women who created this opportunity.
How many Samuel Brownridges remain in prison? That's the question no one can answer. They're all waiting for a dedicated pro bono lawyer and a Conviction Integrity Unit to undo the crimes of our criminal "justice" system.
ON THE OTHER HAND, IN THE NY TIMES ON THE VERY SAME DAY...
The second story is about the criminal "justice" system protecting violent white supremacists.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech to over 250,000 people in Washington, D.C. Eighteen days later, on September 15, a bombing occurred at the 16th Street Baptist Church, a center of civil rights activity in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were killed in the blast. Many others were injured.
The Four Little Girls: Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley
The force of the blast blew out
the windows across the street.
Sarah Collins, left, whose sister was killed, ended up losing an eye.
The news of this horrific crime reverberated throughout the country. I was 16, and I remember well my shock and outrage. The whole nation grieved for those girls. No one alive at that time will forget it.
As the Times said later, "The Birmingham bombing holds a special place in civil rights history because of the randomness of its violence, the sacredness of its target, and the innocence of its victims."
As you can see in the newspaper on the right, the F.B.I. was called in immediately to investigate the bombing. You can't do better than that. Right? Right?
From Blanton's obituary in last Friday's NYT: "Mr. Blanton was a suspect in the church bombing early on but escaped justice for decades, thanks in part to interference by J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I., who in 1964 derailed efforts by the bureau's Birmingham office to bring charges against him and three other men. Mr. Hoover was said to have blocked the case because he thought a successful prosecution was unlikely."
And who should know better than J. Edgar if success was likely or not, since Hoover had decided to repress "incriminating recordings made by the F.B.I. that implicated both Blanton and another man." (from the NY Times) The repressed evidence became known only in 1980,seventeen years after the bombing, and after Hoover had been dead eight years.
This is a terrible crime that roiled the entire country, and the F.B.I. at its highest level, decided not to pursue it -- even though they have evidence.
It seems to me the F.B.I. decided that killing black children by bombing their church was.... well, really not so terrible. Can this decision to repress evidence of a notorious and brutal crime be regarded in any other way?
If this is not white supremacy at work, then I don't know what is.
Even after the recordings became known in 1980, NOTHING HAPPENED until1997, thirty-four years after the bombing, when a group of black ministers urged the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham to open a new investigation. FINALLY, in 2001, thirty-eight years after the bombing, Blanton was convicted and spent the rest of his life in prison.
So Thomas Blanton, a white man, lived free for 38 years thanks to the white supremacist heading the F.B.I. J. Edgar Hoover PROTECTED BLANTON by repressing evidence that he had participated in the murder four black girls.
And Samuel Brownridge, an innocent black man, spent 25 yearsin prison because no one in the "justice" system gave a damn if they had the wrong black man.
These two cases created a climate of fear for all black people. What did it mean to all of those who knew Samuel Brownridge was jailed on trumped-up evidence? It meant that they lived in fear that it could happen to them. What did it mean to the black people in the entire nation that the perpetrators of the heinous and infamous crime of the church bombing were jailed 38 years late? It meant that they lived in fear that their children could be murdered, and no one would care about finding the criminals.
I have been reluctant to label manifestations of racism as white supremacy unless it referred to the actions of people who call themselves white supremacists. But I think both these stories taken together are emblematic of a white supremacy that infests our entire "justice" system, a white supremacy working to instill fear in all black people.
I'm grateful to the New York Times, the most mainstream of mainstream news, for giving me the information so that I could understand our country more deeply.
Whew. Bloggelinis, this is heavy stuff, isn't it? At least we know there are some compassionate judges and lawyers dedicated to turning the system around.