[News] Castro Strikes a Nerve
News at freedomarchives.org
News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 3 13:33:52 EDT 2005
Castro Strikes a Nerve
By Jill Soffiyah Elijah, AlterNet
Posted on June 3, 2005, Printed on June 3, 2005
In April 2005 the international community began to take a closer look at
the United States justice system as its government attempted to explain and
or deny the presence of admitted terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles. As news
stories sprouted from even mainstream media calling for the extradition of
Posada to Venezuela, a country with which the U.S. has had a longstanding
extradition treaty, Washington went into a frenzy.
After some false starts concerning what it was going to do about Posada,
Washington "defended" its position by hurling barbs at Cuban President
Fidel Castro about the political asylum granted to Assata Shakur by the
Cuban government. President Castro retorted that Ms. Shakur had not
received justice in the United States and that she, like many other
political prisoners, had been persecuted and denied a fair trial.
By aiming the spotlight on the criminal justice system in the United
States, President Castro exposed a tender nerve for Washington. My more
than 20 years as a criminal defense lawyer and professor of criminal
defense advocacy confirm the widely known assessment that every aspect of
the criminal justice system is ripe for criticism and laden with hypocrisy.
The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other
developed nation on earth. The population of the United States comprises 5%
of the world's population but its incarcerated population is equal to more
than 25% of the world's prisoners.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on current rates of
first incarceration, an estimated 32% of black males will enter state or
federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 17% of Hispanic males and
5.9% of white males. In other words, one third of black men can expect to
be incarcerated during their life times if they live in the United States.
Incarceration in the U.S. is a growing industry. In 2001, an estimated 2.7%
of adults in the U.S. had served time in prison, up from 1.8% in 1991 and
1.3% in 1974. The BJS reports that as of December 31, 2001, there were an
estimated 5.6 million adults who had ever served time in state or federal
prison, including 4.3 million former prisoners and 1.3 million adults in
At every stage of the criminal justice system in the U.S., blacks, Latinos,
Chicanos and other people of color and the poor are disproportionately
impacted. Decisions by law enforcement personnel concerning who to stop,
who to arrest and how to charge, are all infused with racial bias.
Decisions regarding indictments, plea offers and requests for enhanced
sentences and the death penalty, are similarly guided by considerations of
race and class.
Sentencing decisions regarding probation and incarceration reflect the same
racial overtones as the earlier stages of the system. The racist practices
of prosecutors was so prevalent that in 1986 the United States Supreme
Court finally outlawed the practice of routinely removing blacks from the
jury in Batson v. Kentucky (476 U.S. 79). Prior to 1986, the courts
routinely ignored the practice. Following Batson, prosecutors simply
offered pre-textual reasons for their racist challenges to potential jurors
and the courts turned a blind eye.
Prisoners in the U.S. are systematically incarcerated hundreds, and in many
instances thousands, of miles away from their families and loved ones.
Family contact is discouraged and thwarted. Frequently family members
travel hundreds of miles to visit their loved one and they are denied entry
on minor technicalities.
U.S. prison officials regularly create obstacles when attorneys seek to
visit their clients. Memos authorizing the visit mysteriously disappear on
the day the attorney arrives for the visit. Use of private attorney-client
conference rooms is denied. Visits are inexplicably cut short and routinely
monitored by video camera and roaming guards.
Similar tactics are often employed against political defendants during
pretrial proceedings. The cases of both Assata Shakur and the Cuban 5 are
reflective of the unconstitutional obstacles created to interfere in trial
preparation. Shakur's lawyer, Evelyn Williams, had to obtain a court order
to get access to her client. Lawyers for the Cuban 5 were limited to brief
designated time periods when they were allowed to meet with their clients
prior to trial.
Such interferences compromise the ability of the defendants and their
counsel to develop trial strategy, prepare testimony and make crucial
decisions about witnesses and evidence. In the case of the Cuban 5,
independent polls showed that it would be impossible for them to get a fair
trial in Miami. Despite this objective evidence, the judge denied the
defendants' motion for a change of venue, even to Fort Lauderdale, just 30
Assata Shakur's requests for a change of venue were initially denied and
then finally granted with a move to Morris County, one of the richest and
most conservative overwhelmingly white counties in the state of New Jersey.
Further, the hysterical pretrial publicity assisted in creating an
atmosphere that guaranteed the defendants would not get a fair trial.
Last month President Fidel Castro delivered a calculated series of public
addresses that have been heard around the world, including in the United
States. The arduous campaign to obtain justice for the Cuban 5 and to
expose the hypocrisy of the criminal justice system has been the backdrop
to these presentations.
President Castro's expose of the system rings so very true to the millions
of Americans who have been incarcerated in the United States and the more
than 100 political prisoners who are currently held in its prisons. The
millions who have had their lives interrupted by the criminal "justice"
system know that fairness is usually an illusion discussed widely in
classrooms but not mentioned in courtrooms. They know it's unjust. Castro's
pronouncements bear witness to the fact that "justice" in the United
States, isn't justice at all.
Jill Soffiyah Elijah, Esq. is deputy director of the Criminal Justice
Institute at Harvard Law School.
This editorial does not reflect the viewpoints of Harvard University,
Harvard Law School, its programs or departments. Institutional affiliation
is listed for identification purposes only.
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/22155/
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News