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COMMENTARY: Weinstein and Attorney ‘Totally Confused’ By 23-Year Prison Sentence

NNPA NEWSWIRE — For now, Weinstein and Bill Cosby remain the only high-profile celebrities convicted of sexual assault or a related charge in the new era. It’s likely that State Supreme Courts in Pennsylvania, where Cosby is pushing for a hearing, and New York, where Weinstein’s case will no doubt end up, will be the next arbiters in what has become a debate about the meaning, practice and execution of justice.

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"I'm totally confused," Weinstein told a packed New York City courtroom.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Just before a judge handed down a 23-year prison sentence for his rape and sexual assault conviction, fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein addressed the court.

“I’m totally confused,” Weinstein told a packed New York City courtroom.

His confusion would shortly turn to astonishment when State Supreme Court Judge James Burke ordered that Weinstein must serve 23 years in prison – a virtual life sentence for the 67-year-old.

While the #MeToo Movement celebrated the guilty verdicts and sentence as significant victories, Weinstein and his lawyer bristled.

“Things that none of us understood,” Weinstein uttered. “Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country. I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”

“He never had a fair shake from day one,” said Weinstein’s legal counsel, Donna Rotunno. “That sentence was obscene. I am overcome with anger at that number. I think that number is a cowardly number to give.”

However, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and many others who have followed the trial since its onset, believed the sentence is completely fair and appropriate.

“We thank the court for imposing a sentence that puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice,” Vance added. “Rape is rape whether the survivor reports it within the next hour, within a year, or never at all. It’s rape, despite the complicated dynamics of power and consent after an assault.”

Court records, recordings, letters, and witness testimony revealed that some of Weinstein’s continued close relationships with him — including intimate relationships — for years after the incidents that led to his conviction and sentencing.

Weinstein’s representatives have pointed out that the victims even sent him flirtatious emails for several years, and one even tried to introduce Weinstein to her mother and admitted to consensual sexual acts for years after the assault.

Barbara Ziv, an expert forensic psychiatrist that testified for the prosecution, noted that those actions are consistent with the behavior of many victims.

Many have opined that if Weinstein had not been found guilty of the charges on which he was convicted, he was still certainly guilty of raping or assaulting others and will never be tried for those offenses.

What remains troubling for some legal experts, is that the overwhelming negative public opinion regarding Weinstein, including a presumption of guilt based upon stories in the press, may have influenced the jury’s decision.

They argue that Weinstein, like Bill Cosby before him, was pre-judged to be guilty by a jury of his peers, instead of being presumed innocent. This meant a much lower burden of proof for the prosecution – a constitutional no-no.

That presumption of guilt can be scary for anyone, particularly when someone in power like Vance states that the mere allegation of rape should be enough for a conviction.

“It’s rape even if there is no physical evidence,” Vance told media members outside of the courtroom.

Perhaps Vance was simply playing to the #MeToo Movement, which has mobilized over the past several years to both empower women and expose men like Weinstein, who have misused and abused their often vast amounts of power and influence.

#MeToo and its underlying messages are certainly warranted and, in many instances, represent the only outlet available to shed light on illicit practices. However, there is still no standard in place to objectively manage allegations that result in criminal charges.

In the age of social media, when claims can quickly escalate to unfounded accusation, prosecutors have a responsibility to deliver fair and equal justice to both the defendant and the state.

When everyone in the world is just a Google search and click away from thousands of pages of data – much of it false – ensuring that mob mentality will not drive what occurs in the courtroom becomes a challenging job. For prosecutors that serve in elected positions, failing to demonstrate a commitment to “believe the women,” can have its own set of implications.

For now, Weinstein and Bill Cosby remain the only high-profile celebrities convicted of sexual assault or a related charge in the new era. It’s likely that State Supreme Courts in Pennsylvania, where Cosby is pushing for a hearing, and New York, where Weinstein’s case will no doubt end up, will be the next arbiters in what has become a debate about the meaning, practice and execution of justice.

In Cosby’s case, the court could mandate a new trial, with a different judge and prosecutor. For Weinstein, where defense arguments are likely to center around the severity of the sentence received (attorneys not associated with the trial have suggested that a 10- to 15-year sentence for his crimes would’ve been expected), the defense will need to convince the court that the sentence is not justified or that the court was not unduly biased.

“The harsh penalty is further evidence that the court was biased against Weinstein from the beginning,” Rotunno said. “We hope this sentence will speak to the appellate court in a way that will show this has been unfair from the beginning.”

However, standing in opposition to Rotunno’s statements are at least 100 women, including several A-list actresses, who have collectively and individually alleged that Weinstein used the casting couch to harass or assault them sexually.

“If women with that influence and power could be victimized, anyone can,” stated Nora V. Demleitner, a Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University in Virginia at the start of the trial.

“Also, the types of accusations against Weinstein were so egregious that, as alleged, they easily met the standard of serious crimes. For all these reasons and the fact that we are now witnessing a criminal trial that keeps the case in the news, it is more important than the others,” Demleitner stated.

Sophie Sandberg, the founder of the Instagram channel, “Catcalls of NYC,” said celebrity men had all become symbols in the #MeToo Movement, and that can have a negative impact in many ways.

“The first, it can result in the false impression that we can get rid of all the men who are abusers and fix the problem. Rather, the #MeToo movement should be about changing systemic inequality that results in widespread gender-based sexual harassment on the streets, in workplaces and schools,” Sandberg stated.

“Second, as a result of these celebrities being fired and put on trial, many men feel that they are being targeted and victimized by the #MeToo movement. This can result in retaliation and backlash,” she stated.

Nicole Porter, a professor of law at The University of Toledo College of Law, stated that Weinstein caused the current iteration of the #MeToo movement, but the action is about so much more than Harvey Weinstein or his criminal case.

“In my opinion, the #MeToo movement has had its biggest impact in two ways,” Porter stated. “Getting the public to understand how big of a problem sexual harassment and assault is and getting employers to take sexual harassment in the workplace more seriously,” Porter added.

“I don’t think the outcome of this trial will affect the #MeToo movement,” Porter stated prior to the jury’s verdict. “If he gets convicted, I imagine the majority of the public will be happy about that, although there will be a sizable and likely very vocal minority who might feel like he should have been acquitted.”

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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