in/justice


1


Some days I miss Anthony R. Hinton. When I was in high school, we were pen pals. Me, in Albany; he, in Alabama, on death row. It was a wrongful conviction. I got his contact info from one of several law organizations working on his appeal.

Dutifully, I sent letters full of the banalities of teenage life and got back these mangled envelopes--unsealed, read by prison guards, sealed back again--written in his loopy hand on yellow legal paper. Will you send me something? Can I call you? I avoided those questions, answered some others.

Until my parents made me stop writing him. They invited over our priest, told him I was endangering the family, made him "talk sense" to me. They asked me how I'd feel if they killed him, how I would cope. Said I didn't know what I was getting myself in to.

Maybe that's true, maybe not. Injustice was important to me then, as it is now, and compassion seemed a worthy antidote.

I don't know what happened to Anthony, whether he's still on death row or some angel of death shot heart-stopping chemicals into his veins. Sometimes I feel like I abandoned him.

2


One of my friends is fighting a wrongful arrest in court next week.

She was at a public hearing at the Brooklyn Museum about the proposed funding cuts for student subway passes. She's a single mom, living with her daughter and mother in the projects. The cuts are the difference between some and no money for food. She spoke out of turn at the mic, though the woman she preempted willingly gave up her time.

Later on, two plain-clothes-no-badge-wearing cops (the kind that shot Amadou Diallo) apprehended her. She objected, they charged her with resisting arrest and threw her in jail for two nights. Now she can't afford the lawyer fees to fight the charges. As if being a single mom isn't hard enough.

3


At work, we've been following the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who has been held in solitary confinement for three years on charges of material support to Al Qaeda. He is an American citizen, from Queens by way of Pakistan. He was arrested in London and extradited to the U.S. after a visiting friend, whose luggage contained waterproof socks and ponchos, used Hashmi's cell phone to allegedly call terrorists.

He was never given a fair trial or shown the evidence against him; he was not allowed to receive mail from his family, or even see them. Three years since the torture began, having maintained his innocence all the while, he plead guilty yesterday to a reduced sentence of 15 years, rather than run the risk of receiving a 70-year penalty. This is a guy who went to Brooklyn college, who wrote a paper on profiling and unjust imprisonment of Muslims post-9/11.

He won't breathe free air again until he's in his forties.

4


When people call America a free country, I wonder what it is they are talking about. Whether it is easier to delude oneself than to face persistent and grave injustice. Not a day goes by that I don't fear for my life if I look the wrong way at a cop, or pull my hand out of my pocket too quickly. When I saw footage of Oscar Grant, shot in the back on a BART train platform, I was looking nervously over my shoulder for weeks afterward waiting for the 5-train.

Perhaps only the richest, oldest, whitest people will ever truly be free here. I suppose that is what they are really teaching, thinly-veiled, with Jefferson and the rest writing to a broken melody of wails and cowhide breaking against the backs of black people. I am not saying that justice is an impossible ideal. I am simply saying that we cannot ignore injustice, wherever we find it, that it must be rooted out like a terrorist of freedom.

3 comments:

{ Nanasei } | April 29, 2010 at 8:33 AM said...

Very touching post...

About your single-mom friend, how was she supposed to know those that arrested her had the authority to do so (assuming she was guilty of something) when they neither wore uniforms nor their badges? Putting myself in her shoes, how could I be accused before a court of resisting arrest if two punks (for all I care) approached me and started reciting Miranda rights while simultaneously attempting to handcuff me, all the while not showing any government-issued sign of their authority? My instincts would probably cause me to construe them as kidnappers or, worse, murderers. And I would do all I could to resist being accosted!
In such cases, I see a clear abuse of police power. And the question is: are there any effective systems or policies are in place to check such gross abuse meted on vulnerable populations by government authorities?

{ Alligator Legs } | April 29, 2010 at 1:01 PM said...

That's precisely the problem, Nanasei! There are no systems or policies. Time and again I feel the criminal justice system should just delete the word "justice" to more accurately represent the truth.

When I wrap my head around the whole thing, I feel so powerless sometimes. It's as though having a gun and badge, concealed or not, makes one omnipotent.

Anonymous | May 4, 2010 at 9:23 AM said...

Well, I'm not rich or old, but I am white. Yet I also fear being shot in the back for having nothing more than "defiant" body language that subconsciously, constantly screams my disdain at injustices and the growing police states surrounding us before I can obfuscate it.

For this reason I fear visiting the US, which spoke of promise and adventure to me as a kid, as it did for many, and now I may never be able to go. *I* don't feel safe at the thought of being there either. I also fear the UK and, although I've been there, I no longer have an interest in returning, bar the fact that I have many wonderful childhood friends who live there who I miss dearly.

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