08 July, 2018
PARDONING, POLITICS, AND PAROLE: JEROME TEELUCKSINGH, Ph.D.
George Stinney Jr was tried in a court of law and electrocuted in 1944 in the United States. Within 83 days, he was accused, tried for murder, convicted and executed. His name and crime remains ‘lost’ in the law books and old newspapers. Stinney was accused of murdering two white girls in South Carolina. He was innocent but forced to confess. How old was this man? He was not yet a man—he was only fourteen years old when he was wrongfully put to death. One newspaper reported on the moments before the electrocution:
“When the switch was flipped and the first 2,400 volts surged through his body, the too-large death mask slipped from his face revealing the tears falling from his scared, open eyes” (https:// www.theguardian.com/theobserver/ 2014/mar/22/ george-stinney-execution-verdict-innocent).
New evidence in the 21st century has proven that Stinney was innocent.
One of the positive achievements of 2018 occurred when United States President The Honorable Donald Trump granted a full posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, a boxing legend. Who was this person who remains unknown to many of us? Johnson, born in Texas in 1878, became the first Black heavyweight boxing champion in 1908. All Americans should have been elated to know that a son of the soil had created history and made their country proud. Instead, Johnson would be convicted of transporting his white girlfriend across state lines in 1913. Who comprised the jury? Not surprisingly, it was an all-white jury. Johnson’s career and reputation was abruptly curtailed. Remember -- Johnson was neither an immigrant nor an illegal alien. He was born and bred in the United States. That was a century of tense Black-White relations, lynching, race riots, and segregation. What was Johnson’s crime? Simply being Black was an aberration in the eyes of some Americans.
In 1996, Alice Marie Johnson, (no relations to the boxing legend) was sentenced to life without parole in a federal prison. She was convicted as a result of money laundering and nonviolent drug charges. However, in 2018 as a result of the intervention of Kim Kardashian, President Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence and the 63 year old grandmother once again became a free woman. Johnson’s case is not unique. The Washington Post published an article with the headline: “It’s Not Just Alice Marie Johnson: Over 2,000 Federal Prisoners Are Serving Life Sentences For Nonviolent Drug Crimes”. (https:/ /www.washingtonpost.com/news/ wonk/wp/2018/06/06/its-not-just-alice-marie-johnson-over-2000-federal-prisoners-are-serving-life-sentences-for-nonviolent-drug-crimes/?utmterm=301fd19edc 57). There are a lot more horror stories. For instance, The Guardian reported on cases at the Angola Prison in Louisiana, which included the following: “Ronald Washington, 48, is also serving life without parole in Angola, in his case for shoplifting two Michael Jordan jerseys from a Foot Action sportswear store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2004” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/13/us-prisoners-sentences-life-non-violent-crimes). The combined cost of both jerseys was approximately US$100.00.
These incidents are not confined to the United States. Throughout the world there are innocent persons who are jailed or given lengthy sentences for petty crimes. Additionally, there is a long list of political prisoners whose only crime was speaking or writing against corrupt and undemocratic governments. Who will offer them a pardon? Who will give them a second chance? Who will give them a new lease of life? We need to ensure that innocent persons are freed. More importantly, for those who are guilty, we need a legal system that provides sentencing or jail term to fit the crime.
Somebody or some organizations needs to go into the law books and archives to re-examine certain cases because there is a very long line of dead innocent persons who are patiently waiting for their posthumous pardons!
Jerome Teelucksingh, Ph.D. is a Gender Issues Thought Leader; faculty member in the History Department of the University of West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago; founder of International Men's Day (http://www.usainternationalmensday.blogspot.com); Trinidad and Tobago's Coordinator for the inaugural observance of the "Impartial And Fair Treatment In Parole" Initiative; and prolific author.
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