The new movement asking for justice, not politics
October 10, 2012 1 Comment
On August 18 of this year, Tammy Alexander set about the task of creating a secret Facebook group. She was preparing to launch a collaborative advocacy effort regarding wrongful convictions. New members were quickly added, including a core group of activists for various wrongfully convicted people.
In less than a month and a half, the size of the group has grown to include almost 190 members – all of whom know and advocate for people who have been convicted, executed, or sentenced to die in prison for crimes they did not commit. An effort that began as a mere petition drive has turned into a movement to raise awareness about wrongful convictions.
To adequately explain this ambitious effort, I need to begin with the petition portion of the campaign. The petition itself seeks accountability on the part of those who pursue these convictions in the first place. This includes prosecutors, judges, and even defense attorneys who engage in misconduct. Though hundreds of people have been exonerated by organizations such as the Innocence Project, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that approximately 8 to 12% of state prisoners are either actually or factually innocent. The majority of these people have not been exonerated and may never have the opportunity to prove their innocence due to the political nature of wrongful convictions.
Prosecutorial and police misconduct account for a staggeringly high number of wrongful convictions and yet these officials are often allowed to act with impunity.
This is unacceptable and it must end. With that said, the petition demands the following:
- “Elimination of absolute immunity for prosecutors”
- Referral to the American bar association, on a mandatory basis, when a prosecutor or defense attorney participates in misconduct
- Transparency regarding officials’ history of misconduct
- The creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit (such as the one implemented by Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins)
- The implementation of specific measures to help ensure accountability for public officials such as prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys
Tammy explained to me that her motivation for purchasing the justice-not-politics.com domain name and starting the petition was that she wanted to take a stand against wrongful convictions. She discussed her ideas with others and learned that she was not the only person who felt passionate about the topic. Tammy realized she had a unique opportunity to provide people who know and love those who have been wrongfully convicted with a platform for speaking out about the problem.
I asked Tammy where the idea came from for the picture piece of the campaign. She explained, “I’ve read case after case of people being exonerated because of misconduct on the part of prosecutors who have frequently moved onto judgeships and are still sitting on the bench, with even more power than they had before. Still making decisions that effect the rest of people’s lives. It isn’t isolated, it’s case, after case, after case, and the general public does not believe it. I would like everyone to know exactly what they get away with, and how they destroy people’s lives. But mostly, I would like to see them held accountable within the judicial system, like everyone else is. “
Simply put, Tammy and those involved in this effort are putting faces and names to the problem. They are making travesties of justice impossible to ignore. This is combined with the petition with the hopes of prompting change.
For Tammy, the topic of wrongful convictions is one that is close to her heart. She views her involvement in the campaign as “a stand for Jamie Snow and his family.” She went on to say that the effort was “a stand against what they did to him in the first place that put him in prison for his natural life, and a stand on what they continue to do to him every day when they refuse to look at his case based on the merits, and continue to refuse to test available physical evidence gathered at the crime scene over two decades ago. Particularly when there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime at the time of his conviction.”
This is exactly what is happening to Kirstin Blaise Lobato – a Nevada woman who has served more than a decade of time in prison for a crime she did not commit. Supporters of her cause are also involved in this particular campaign, hoping that their voice will not only help Blaise but that it will help others in similar situations.
Tammy contacted Jamie in prison after learning of his case. She indicated to him that while she did not know if he was innocent, she believed he deserved a fair trial. He expressed his innocence and provided her with court documents and other materials which convinced her he had been wrongfully convicted. She also discovered during her correspondence with him that he had very little in terms of public support outside of his close friends and family. She described her advocacy for him, stating that she has put up sites on the web and various social networks. She has helped to raise a substantial amount of positive awareness for his case and has even helped to raise funds.
The idea behind the slogan “Justice not Politics” came from the one used for Jason Chambers’ political campaign. Ironically, Chambers is the state attorney in Bloomington, Illinois whom Tammy hopes will test the DNA in Jamie Snow’s case. “I thought it was an interesting slogan to run on indeed,” Tammy stated.
Those participating in the Facebook group have been working diligently on creating pictures in support of various loved ones who have been wrongfully convicted. Each picture features someone who supports a person who has been wrongfully convicted or the individual themselves, declaring their unwillingness to die in prison or to allow another person to die in prison, to advance an official’s political career. The pictures also provide a link to the justice-not-politics site, asking viewers to sign the petition.
It would be difficult to include every person and every cause that has already been included in this campaign, but to give an idea of the breadth of its reach and magnitude, I will name a few: Jamie Snow, Rob Will, Byron Case, the West Memphis Three, Rodney Lincoln, David Thorne, Floyd Jump, Ryan Ferguson, Darlie Routier, Kirstin Blaise Lobato, Steven Woods, Ryan Holle, Nyki Kish, Curtis Shuler, Jason Payne, Jason Wolfe, Denny Petitt, Patrick Pursley, Hank Skinner, Troy Davis, and Jeffrey Havard.
The effort started with a goal of putting together a hundred pictures of support prior to launching the petition. The group has far exceeded that number and has over 600 pictures thanks to many dedicated people who have been involved in the effort. Tammy, along with many others, hope that number grows indefinitely as people learn of about the campaign and lend their voice to it.
Tammy added, “As far as the petition goes, we wanted a call to action linked to the campaign. Otherwise, it would just be support graphics with no real direction. The petition will go to senators and representatives in the signers prospective states. We want to make a strong statement to the legislature that the laws need to be changed.”
I asked Tammy what she hopes the campaign and petition will ultimately accomplish. “Ideally,” she said, “we hope congressional members will take notice and DO something about this issue. We would love to see 1000′s of pictures, and hundreds of thousands of signatures. At a minimum, we hope to create awareness among hundreds that are not aware that the state are not held accountable for wrongful convictions.”
Creating pictures for the campaign has been an enjoyable experience. I have helped to include a number of causes and am impressed with the way so many people have come together to pull this off. Tammy Emily, one of the core advocates involved in the effort, spent countless hours creating graphics for various people and causes.
I have long been a fan of Tammy Emily’s graphics (she has a site on Facebook here) and asked if she would create a support picture for the men known as the West Memphis Three. I thought it would be neat to include them in the campaign since they were released after spending 18 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Supporters of the WM3 were vocal and persistent in their efforts to seek justice.
This is an ongoing petition drive and awareness campaign regarding wrongful convictions. To get involved or help with the campaign please visit the justice-not-politics.com site and sign the petition.
Additionally, you may submit a picture to email@example.com for use in the campaign and on the Facebook page. Please provide the name of the person wrongfully convicted and what you would like the image to say. For example, “I will not let my (daughter, son, father, friend, etc.) DIE in prison to advance YOUR political career.”
Tell government officials that you demand justice, not politics.