Sentinels of Justice sign now

Imagine being arrested and identified solely on the grounds that

ALL BLACKS LOOK ALIKE

Resemblance in the Duke Lacraosse case and Vincent Simmons case


On April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stepped before a crowded press conference and spoke the words that ended one of the most publicized legal stories in recent American history. We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges, he said. The individuals who Cooper was talking about were the three white members of Duke University Mens Lacrosse team who had been falsely accused in March 2006 of raping a black female stripper at a party. However, what attracted most of the media attention in the Duke Lacrosse incident was the role played by ex-Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong. On August 31, 2007 it was found that Nifong, who had prosecuted the case, had knowingly made false statements during the criminal proceedings and withheld DNA evidence for nine months which proved the players innocence. The North Caroline State Bar also filed two rounds of ethics charges against him and he was subsequently disbarred for dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. Cooper stated that the players were victims of a rogue prosecutor's "tragic rush to accuse. Nifong received a one day jail sentence.

Our criminal justice system in American is widely accepted as being imperfect. However, this does not excuse the fact that certain groups of Americans are being victimized by a system where justice is not blind and the scales of justice are not equally balanced. These issues are discussed in the recently published book Until proven innocent: political correctness and the shameful injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape case by Stuart Taylor, a National Journal columnists and Newsweek contributor and KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY. Taylor regarded Nifongs overreaching as perhaps the worst prosecutorial misconduct ever exposed while it was happening. Their book offers a chilling portrait of how the criminal justice system can nail and punish the innocent. Predictably the innocent are usually poor people who lack the money, connections or media exposure. After the charges against him were dismissed, Reade Seligmann, one of the accused in the Duke Lacrosse case noted If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I cant imagine what theyd do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. This point is reinforced by Victor Goode, a professor of Law at CUNY School of Law, who, on writing about the case, questions what about young Blacks and Latinos who wind up in the same predicament as these white Duke students? It is exactly this predicament that Vincent Simmons, a black man from Louisiana, found himself in 1977 when he was arrested, indicted, tried and subsequently convicted of two counts of rape of two fourteen year old white females. He was sentenced to 100 years hard labour.

No physical evidence links Vincent with the crime of allegedly raping white twin sisters in Marksville, Louisiana. Throughout the judicial process, Vincent has suffered racial prejudice. For example, when first asked for a description of their attacker, the alleged victims responded, All blacks look alike. They also repeatedly referred to the perpetrator as nigger. This was just the beginning. Vincents identification was also carried out in an unsatisfactory manner. He was the sole participant in the physical line-up to appear in handcuffs. What is more, despite clearly indicating that the perpetrator was a black man, the identification process included at least one Caucasian man. Vincent was also later shot by one of the police officers during his detainment for allegedly attempting to escape and attack one of the officers. Ironically charges were never brought up against him for these two events. There were various instances of prosecutorial misconduct during Vincents trial. First, Ms. Jeannette T. Knoll, the prosecutor in Vincents case (who has since risen to become a prominent Louisiana Supreme Court Justice), committed various Brady violations by suppressing favourable statements from the states primary witness. Second: key medical evidence was not made available to the court during Vincents trial. This evidence contains the physicians report which states that he was unable to complete the exam because one of the alleged victims hymen was fully intact. This report, unavailable to the court, contradicts her testimony at trial that she was brutally raped and the perpetrator climaxed inside her. The medical report for the other alleged victim suggests she had intercourse nine months previously. Nevertheless. ADA Jeanette T. Knoll made reference to the jury that both girls were virgins prior to the rape. This outcome of the medical report was only revealed a decade later after the conclusion of Vincents trial.

Vincent has now been incarcerated for over 30 years.

The question therefore is why the Duke Lacrosse case and Vincents case had such different outcomes. While there is no doubt that the Duke case was a very real miscarriage of justice three white men were wrong accused of rape what distinguishes it from other cases is not that justice was eventually done but rather that justice was done in that case because the defendants could afford it. As Victor Goode from CUNY notes justice was done becauseat some point the system simply refused to treat these white young men like they were poor and black. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts insists that we now live in a colorblind society but the Vincent Simmons case highlights that this is not the case. The similarities between the cases start and end with innocence. The differences are much more striking the Duke Lacrosse players were white and from backgrounds which afforded them the support, financially and otherwise, to prove their innocence. Vincent Simmons, on the other hand, is a black man from a poor family and was raised in Southern Louisiana where racism is a battle to be contended with daily.

However, history shows that the sad reality is that the treatment of Mike Nifong was actually somewhat of an anomaly. Prosecutors are rarely punished for breaking the rules. A 1999 Chicago Tribunal investigation for example found 381 murder convictions nationwide that were reversed since 1963 because prosecutors withheld evidence or manipulated witnesses to lie. Yet not one of the prosecutors in theses cases were sanctioned or disbarred. The Center for Public Integrity, an investigative group, found similarly disturbing results after looking at more than 2000 reversals of criminal cases from 1970 to 2003.

Vincent has exhausted all possibilities to appeal his case. The United States Court of Appeals ruled that he and his attorney and future attorneys have been barred from filing any subsequent pleadings relating to his case. In the absence of a pardon he will spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. History is likely to repeat itself if we as a community dont start getting involved in social justice issues affecting the minorities. However, recent events in Louisiana indicate that the first step towards getting involved in such issues has been taken when the national and international community got behind the Free the Jena 6 Campaign.

The Jena 6 refers to a group of 6 high school students from Jena, Louisiana who were arrested for beating up a white student. This incident arose when a black student at the school sat under a tree traditionally reserved for white students. The following day nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen." A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Five of the six students were initially charged as adults with attempted second degree murder.

On the 20th of September a rally was held in Jena. Respect goes out to several black and white celebrities and other community figures for stepping to the forefront to address the Free the Jena 6 issue. Local heroes such as black radio show host Michael Baisden, who has a listening audience of over 10 million, must also be acknowledged. Baisden played a large part in helping to stage the national rally in Jena which demanded justice for the six students. He also made the excellent point on his show that the Jena 6 is a racial situation which will not just stop once all six are free. If we, the American people, dont rally behind such a noble cause addressing cases like the Jena 6 and of the case of Vincent Simmons we might as well be the small band of naпve supporters outside of Durham NC jail who supported Mike Nifong by carrying signs that said we believe in your integrity and goodness.

Right now there are letters sent to several high profile politicians seeking their support and interference. Despite having many supporters both nationally and internationally and a website set up in his name, Vincent has never had the backing of an organization specifically championing his case. The Sentinels of Justice Association wants to be this organization.

We are seeking the same international exposure for Vincents case that the Duke Lacrosse and Jena 6 cases got. As well as establishing the Sentinels of Justice Association we are also in the process of making a documentary on the material above entitled The true belly of the beast. We are also in the process of successfully recruiting students from colleges across the country including Harvard, The University of Connecticut, The University of New Orleans, The Southern University of Louisiana and Tulane University to promote and support our cause.

At this point however we will leave you with a final thought:

Freedom isnt always free and justice isnt always just but God will always be God.

For more information regarding The Sentinels of Justice please contact:
[email protected] or
[email protected]

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