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Record-Level of Criminal Exonerations

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black man in jail

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black criminal defendants accounted for roughly 46 percent of the 125 known exonerations in 2014, the highest annual number of exonerations recorded since 1989, according to a national registry that tracks wrongful convictions.

According to a recent report by The National Registry of Exonerations, the next highest total for exonerations was 88 recorded in 2012 and 87 in 2013. Researchers said that prosecutors have increasingly taken a harder look at flawed cases, which contributed to jump in exonerations.

The powerful role that prosecutors play in the criminal justice system has increasingly drawn sharp public criticism following grand jury proceedings involving the highly publicized deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of White police officers.

In the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and shooting deaths of John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio and the teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., grand juries chose not to indict police officers.

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for reform in sentencing practices and urged federal prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in non-violent drug cases.

Researchers with the exonerations registry reported 716 exonerations of Black criminal defendants, compared to 624 Whites through February 6, 2015. That includes 330 exonerations for homicides, 167 for sexual assaults and another 179 for other crimes including drug crimes.

Blacks accounted for roughly 46 percent of the known exonerations in 2014. The number of Black criminal defendants exonerated in 2013 accounted for 47 percent of known cases, compared to 40 percent for Whites.

In a press release about the report, Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, said that the big story is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence.

The report credited the rise of conviction integrity units (CIU), “long-term operations that work to prevent, to identify and to remedy false convictions” for contributing to an increase in criminal exonerations.

“There were 49 CIU exonerations in 2014, including 10 murder exonerations in Brooklyn, and 29 of the 33 Harris County (Texas) drug-crime exonerations,” stated the report.

Gross said that many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.

The report said that 47 of the 125 defendants (38 percent) who were exonerated in 2014 were cleared of criminal convictions to which they had pled guilty, also a record. In fact, in 58 of the 125 known exonerations from last year, no crime occurred, according to the report, and that number is likely to grow.

“The states with the most exonerations in 2014 are Texas (39), New York (17), Illinois (7), Michigan (7), Ohio (6), North Carolina (4), Louisiana (3), Maryland (3), Oregon (3), Pennsylvania (3), and Tennessee (3),” stated the report. “The states with the most recorded exonerations are not necessarily those where most false convictions have occurred.”

In Harris County, Texas defendants often pled guilty to drug crimes before evidenced was tested. When lab tests revealed that the evidence was not an illegal substance, the convictions were overturned. More than 90 percent of the drug-crime exonerations in 2014 were no-crime cases, including all 33 drug-crime exonerations in Harris County, the report said.

“Judging from known exonerations in 2014,” said Gross. “The legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored.”

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Events

Ella Baker Center Turns 25

Community members will have the opportunity to join the celebration virtually or in person at Restore Oakland at 1419 34th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601.

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Michelle Alexander/Photo via pbs.org

Alicia Garza

Co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Alicia Garza and Michelle Alexander, acclaimed author of “The New Jim Crow,” will join youth justice leader Xochtil Larios to discuss a collective vision for liberation at the Ella Baker Center’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27.

After 25 years of working to empower Black and Brown communities and fighting for a world without prisons and policing, the event will seek to inspire organizers, community members and changemakers to reflect on past victories in the movement for social justice and imagine how to continue moving toward a world based on justice.

The event will include entertainment by musicians, poets as well as comments by founders of the Ella Baker Center, Dianna Frappier and Van Jones. Community members will have the opportunity to join the celebration virtually or in person at Restore Oakland at 1419 34th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601.

The in-person event will be held outdoors and available to vaccinated guests only. 

To RSVP for the virtual event, please email ashley@ellabakercenter.org by Oct. 14 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Local Governments Can Lead in Public Safety Movement

Negotiations on a federal police reform bill have collapsed because Congressional Republicans are willing to stand in the way of lifesaving changes to policing.

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Police Car/iStock

Negotiations on a have collapsed because Congressional Republicans are willing to stand in the way of lifesaving changes to policing. It is time for state and local governments to take the lead in reimagining public safety. And it is time for all of us to support local leaders who are willing to show leadership and take risks to make it happen.

Change is not going to come from Congress, at least for now. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act earlier this year. It would have been a good first step. Like other good legislation, though, the bill was stopped by Republican obstruction in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has spent months negotiating with Republican Sen. Tim Scott on a reform bill. As recently as August, Scott said they were getting close to an agreement. But talks fell apart in September, and Scott dishonestly blamed Democrats for the failure to reach agreement, accusing them of wanting to “defund the police.”

Scott’s claim is shameful. New York Magazine recently noted that just last year Scott himself proposed that police departments lose some federal funding if they do not ban deadly practices like choke holds or no-knock warrants. But now he is telling the media that requiring police departments to meet such federal standards in order to receive federal money is the same as “defunding the police.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Well, if you’re Sen. Scott, I guess you can. Even two major police groups rejected Scott’s claims, saying in a statement that “at no point did any legislative draft propose ‘defunding the police.’”

I don’t know what political calculations led to Sen. Scott’s change of heart or his dishonest spin. And I don’t really care. What I do care about is saving lives by making policing safer and more accountable.

Fortunately, there are local leaders who are willing to think creatively and work collaboratively to reimagine public safety.

In Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick worked with Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino on a plan designed to deliver accountability, transparency, and excellence in public safety. They came up with a plan that would replace the current police department with a new department of public safety.

The new department would be civilian-led, and it would employ both armed officers and unarmed community solution workers trained to respond to situations that do not require an armed response. The proposal won unanimous approval from the Ithaca City Council, which created a task force to develop a plan for implementing it.

Ithaca’s plan is meeting resistance from some state Republican leaders. They’re trying to convince the public that you can’t have accountability and safety. That’s a false tradeoff. Making policing more just and accountable will make communities safer for everyone.

I believe there is a critical mass of elected officials who are ready and willing to begin the process of transforming policing in this country from the bottom up. Last year, 100 young progressive candidates ran for office as part of a slate committed to ending police killings of unarmed civilians. There are mayors and city council members around the country looking at Ithaca’s plan and making their own.

Reimagining public safety has become a movement. Congress can’t stop us.

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