In a column on BlackAmericaWeb, Tonyaa Weathersbee writes that the case of Innocence Project client Michael Anthony Williams highlights the racial injustices of our criminal justice system. Williams was wrongfully convicted of a Louisiana rape when he was just 16 years old and served 24 years in prison before DNA testing freed him.
Black Entertainment Television recently featured two defendants from the “Jena Six” case on a televised awards show. Weathersbee writes that the Jena case (which involved disproportionate prosecution and sentencing) certainly reveals racism in the criminal justice system. Weathersbee urges the community not to forget the cases of innocent people who were wrongfully convicted – such as Williams, who is trying to rebuild his life after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
To ease his readjustment Williams said he hopes to join a community of exonerees who, like him, were freed through the efforts of the Innocence Project – an organization whose efforts have led to the release of more than 200 prisoners who have been proven innocent by DNA testing. But the project needs more money to help the former inmates – many of whom are black – who are struggling with depression and other psychological trauma after years of being locked up and then spat out into a world that, to them, might as well be Mars.
BET should champion that cause – and highlight someone like Williams on one of its award shows. Sure exonerees like him may not be young anymore. They may not project the hip-hop generation aura that I’m sure (Jena defendants) Jones and Purvis projected – and that BET audiences eat up with a spoon.
But when it comes to the criminal injustice system, people like Williams illustrate something that transcends hairsplitting about whether black miscreants will receive equal justice compared to white miscreants. People like him illustrate the fact that in many cases, innocent black people don’t get any justice at all.
Read the full column here
. (BlackAmericaWeb, 11/06/07)