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American Jim Crow injustice

By Askia Muhammad
Senior Correspondent | Last updated: Jul 1, 2007 - 4:19:00 PM

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The case of Genarlow Wilson

j_bennett06-26-2007.jpg
Juannessa Bennett F-4.jpg: Juannessa Bennett rubs tears from her eyes during a rally June 14, at the Capitol in Atlanta to support her son, Genarlow Wilson, who remains in prison for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Photo: AP/World Wide Photos (insert) Genarlow Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation and, based on a law that has since been changed, was sentenced to a mandatory 10 years in prison.
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - Black leaders all over the country, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, “vigorously object to the miscarriage of justice in the case of Genarlow Wilson,” who remains imprisoned despite a Georgia state judge’s order to release him.

Mr. Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual sex when he was 17 years old with a 15-year-old girl.

“We believe that the initial sentence of 10 years was abusive and excessive,” the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said in a joint statement released at a press conference June 13. “The decision of the Georgia Attorney General to appeal the decision that would have resulted in the release of Mr. Wilson can only serve to perpetuate the injustice to Mr. Wilson. This case represents yet another tragic breakdown in the criminal justice system that, unfortunately, fails young African American males too often. It is unjust, unfair and un-American,” said the CBC.

“As a former judge and prosecutor, I find the recent decision of the Attorney General remanding Genarlow Wilson troubling,” said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), a CBC member who is Chair of the House Ethics Committee. “A young man’s future is now at serious risk because of Georgia’s arcane laws.

“As a parent of a young man who happens to be Black, it is disturbing to witness such events in our judicial system. In this instance, the system has failed us all. I oppose and have always opposed the practice of trying minors as adults. If the adult criminal justice system was working for adults, I might feel differently. So today, I join my colleagues in the CBC in calling for Genarlow Wilson’s immediate release,” said Rep. Tubs Jones.

“I am truly disheartened by the actions that have taken place and the lack of justice in this process,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) another CBC member, in a statement. “The heavy hand of ‘Georgia justice’ has slammed down on Mr. Wilson, who has served his time and deserves the opportunity to move forward with his life. I stand with my colleagues in calling for the immediate release of this young man.”

According to www.wilsonappeal.com, a website set up for Mr. Wilson where supporters can sign an online petition and receive the latest news about his case, Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson (no relation to Mr. Wilson) ordered the release of Genarlow Wilson on June 11, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.” Judge Wilson declared: “If this court, or any court, cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish…Justice being served in a fair and equal manner.” The website also stated that Mr. Wilson will not have to be placed on the Georgia sex offender registry list, as is the situation for those convicted as sex offenders.

Judge Wilson lessened Mr. Wilson’s charge to a “misdemeanor” and sentenced him to 12 months maximum in jail. He has already served two years of the original sentence, so with credit for time served, he should have been released immediately. The state’s attorney general is now appealing the decision and Mr. Wilson remains imprisoned.

At a New Year’s Eve party, Mr. Wilson participated in a consensual sexual act with a White 15-year-old girl. At the time of his 2005 conviction, Georgia law stated Mr. Wilson’s behavior was considered aggravated child molestation. In 2006, the Georgia legislature amended that law under the “Romeo and Juliet” clause, which states that consensual sex between teenagers is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Ironically, the mother of the girl has also called for the young man’s release, according to a published report. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the boy involved should not have been criminally charged, and that she regretted not asking prosecutors not to charge Mr. Wilson and four other boys at the party at the time of their trials.

“I felt like Douglas County was trying to make an example out of these boys,” Veda Cannon, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in what she said was her first interview about the case. “They should have been made to pay for their actions, but not to this severity,” she said.

But in a strange twist, the next day Ms. Cannon softened some of her earlier comments following a visit to her home from a Douglas County prosecutor who had learned of her interview with the newspaper.

Responding to Ms. Cannon’s assertions, county prosecutors said they suspect she is bending to pressure from people supporting the defendants, an assertion she denied.

“She did not want any of this to happen,” Ms. Cannon said of her daughter, according to the newspaper. Ms. Cannon said her daughter misled her into believing that night that she was heading to a friend’s house for a New Year’s Eve party, and that it would be supervised by parents. She said she never would have let her daughter go out that night had she known she was going to a party at a hotel and not at the home of a friend.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Supreme Court set an October date to hear the case, drawing protest from Black leaders from all around the country. The Reverend Joseph Lowery wrote a letter to Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker asking: “Where is your conscience, that you would allow this travesty to occur on your watch?”

Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), threatened action.

“We will hit the streets to demand the justice that has to date been unavailable from this state’s legal system,” Mr. Steele told an Atlanta rally, according to published reports.

But Georgia’s Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue suggested the case is casting Georgia “in an unfair light,” suggesting the Superior Court judge who ordered Mr. Wilson’s release may have “overstepped his bounds” by re-sentencing Mr. Wilson.

This kind of case is nothing new, as America’s modernized Jim Crow laws continue to be perpetrated against Black people—Black men and boys in particular.

Emmet Till: A 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago visiting his family in the South in the summer of 1955, who was savagely murdered by two White men. His body was found dumped in the Mississippi Delta. A jury of 12 White men found those accused of the heinous crime innocent and the case to this day has not been resolved.

Oliver X Beasley: A follower of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan who worked hard to combat gang violence and drug selling, was shot in the head by sheriff’s deputies of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in January 1990. Brother Oliver’s killers were never charged with a crime and remain free.

Devin Brown: A 13-year-old Black boy who was another casualty of LAPD, when an officer shot him to death in 2005. City prosecutors decided not to file charges against the officer, who remains free.

Amadou Diallo: A 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea who was shot and killed in February 1999 by four New York Police Department (NYPD) officers when they fired 41 rounds of ammunition. In 2001, the Justice Department stated it will not charge the officers for their involvement in his death.

Sean Bell: In a case reminiscent of Mr. Diallo’s, Mr. Bell was killed by NYPD officers in November 2006, the night before his wedding, when they fired at least 50 shots—four striking him. Mr. Bell was unarmed, and only three of the five officers involved in the shooting were indicted by grand jury.

(Nubian Muhammad contributed to this article.)

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