Combatting Injustice in the Criminal Justice System

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It is hard to imagine that today, thousands of innocent people in the United States are placed in jail or prison for a crime that they did not commit. Since 1989, there have been 2,095 exonerations of innocent inmates in the United States. In that time, over 18,250 years were served by those wrongfully convicted. Not only this, 1 in 25 people waiting on Death Row are innocent. It is devastating that thousands of people have lost a huge part of their life if not forced to end their life due to a mistake from the so-called “justice system”. 

In 1986, Walter McMillian, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a young white women. During the time of the murder, McMillian was with his family 11 miles away from the murder site. There were dozens of black people who could testify to his innocence but the jury ignored them. McMillian was held in death row for 15 tortuous months before his trial even began. Once it did, it only lasted a day and a half before he was sent back to death row. McMillian had no prior criminal history and was a 45-year-old-self employed logger who had worked for many people throughout the community. His sentence was a shock to the rest of the community, who wondered how something so cruel and unfair happened. 

In 1988, a lawyer named Bryan Stevenson proved that McMillian’s case had been mishandled and worked to appeal his conviction and death sentence. Stevenson and his team found tape recordings that proved that the State’s only eye witness against McMillian had been pressured to falsely testify at McMillian’s trial. With this being the strongest evidence along with countless others, Stevenson was able to appeal McMillian’s conviction. It took six years of hearings and appeals before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals finally ruled that McMillian’s conviction was unconstitutional. McMillian was finally released in 1993. And this was the beginning of the Equal Justice Initiative. 

Walter McMillian’s tragic story speaks to the failure of the criminal justice system to provide adequate legal support for those who are underprivileged including people of color and those of low-income. McMillian expressed that, “When you are poor and under sentence of death you worry about a lot of things. One of the biggest worries is whether you’ll get the kind of legal assistance you need to save you from execution.”

Not only did McMillian’s socio-economic status prevented him from receiving quality legal assistance, his identity as a black man led to severe discrimination within our criminal justice system. His identity influenced his initial arrest, how the jury made their decision and explained why McMillian’s trial only lasted a day and a half, highlighting how damaging racial inequality could be when placed in our criminal justice system. Such hatred and discrimination should have no home in a place that we all trust to keep us safe.

It is heartbreaking to think that Walter McMillian’s case is only one out of thousands. The lack of legal assistance and the discrimination and injustice in the criminal justice system have stripped away the life of thousands of people. When the wrong person is sent to prison, their families and friends are sent with them. At the same time, society is in danger because the actual perpetrator is free to strike again.

As a result of this cruel reality, many organizations were created in hopes of reforming the justice system so that no innocent person is robbed of their life, dignity, and rights. These organizations work very hard to advocate for innocent people who otherwise could not afford legal assistance. Please consider donating to these organizations to help them with the meaningful work that they are doing for our community. 

 

Innocence Project 

The Innocence Project, founded in 1992,  is a nonprofit legal organization that is committed to exonerating the wrongly convicted through the use of DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices. Their mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

Read more here

Equal Justice Initiative 

 
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.

 

Read more here

 

Centurion 

Centurion as the first organization in the world dedicated to the vindication of the wrongly convicted. Since 1983, Centurion has freed 63 men and women who were serving death sentences for crimes they did not commit (That’s over 1200 years of lost life). Over 1,500 new requests for help come to Centurion each year and they are currently developing over 150 cases of wrongful convictions.

Read more here 

 

Deskovic Foundation  

The Deskovic Foundation is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted in both DNA and non-DNA cases, as well as wrongful conviction prevention. It is solely concerned with wrongful convictions of actually innocent defendants who play no role in the crimes for which they were convicted. Although the Foundation is relatively young, it has already exonerated two people: William Haughey and William Lopez. They are currently fighting to overturn nine other wrongful convictions.

Read more here

 

National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA)

National Legal Aid & Defender Association is America’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. NLADA serves as the country’s civil legal aid and public defense providers and offers high-quality advocacy, training, and technical assistance. 

Read more here

 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund 

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is a leading United States civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City. The organization seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice through advocacy and public education. Staff at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund are dedicated to defending the gains and protections won over the past 75 years of civil rights struggle. 

Read more here

 

East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC)

East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) is committed to promoting justice and building a community that is more secure, productive, healthy, and hopeful by providing legal services and policy advocacy that are responsive to the needs of low-income communities. EBCLC also provides law training that prepares future attorneys to be skilled and principled advocates who are committed to addressing the causes and conditions of racial and economic injustice and poverty. 

Read more here

 

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)’s mission is to serve as a leader, alongside diverse coalitions, in identifying and reforming flaws and inequalities in the criminal justice system by protecting the rights of Americans and promoting due process around the world. The NACDL is a professional organization and advocacy group. 

Read more here

 

Save Our Heroes

Save Our Heroes is devoted to advocating, supporting, and helping military service members who are facing false allegations, wrongful military judicial action, and those who have been wrongfully convicted. Save Our Heroes stand for military justice reform through research, advocacy, and congressional initiatives to seek justice for all. 

Read more here

 

Bail Project

The Bail Project is a national nonprofit organization that combats mass incarceration as well as racial and economic disparities in the bail system by paying bail for people in need. The Bail Project has paid bail for over 10545 people to date! The organization believes that paying bail for someone in need is an act of resistance against a system that criminalizes race and poverty and an act of solidarity with local communities and movements for decarceration 

Read more here

 

Chicago Community Bond Fund 

The Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, Illinois. Through a revolving fund, CCBF supports individuals whose communities cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence.

Read more here

 

Eye-Opening Films on Criminal Justice 🎞

Here is a list of some eye-opening films about Criminal Justice 

Just Mercy

Unbelievable

When They See Us

13th (2016)

The Central Park Five (2012)

Kids for Cash (2013)

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

After Innocence (2005)

 

Books on Criminal Justice 📚

If books are more your thing, here are some books that explore our broken Criminal Justice System

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
  2. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  4. Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing by Joe Domanick
  5. Ghettosde: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
  6. Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.
  7. A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes 
  8. Anatomy of Injustice by Raymond Bonner 
  9. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon Garrett

INFOGRAHPIC

Explore the racial inequity in the criminal justice system

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