[Pnews] New York - David Gilbert - Passing Elder Parole bill would be a step toward justice

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 21 12:10:34 EDT 2020

Passing Elder Parole bill would be a step toward justice
Barbara Smith - October 20, 2020

During this year of unprecedented suffering and loss, it has been made
starkly clear that our criminal justice system needs to change. More and
more people recognize that humane and restorative justice practices achieve
much more positive outcomes than the current punitive system that only
compounds harm. In light of a national reckoning about criminal justice, it
is past time for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant clemency to long-serving elders
in New York’s prisons who do not pose any threat to community safety and
who are at serious risk for contracting COVID-19.

One of those elders is my longtime friend, David Gilbert.

I first met David Gilbert in the early 1990s, when he was incarcerated in
Great Meadow prison in Comstock and I was publisher of *Kitchen Table:
Women of Color* press in Albany, about an hour and a half away. We were
introduced by a mutual friend and we started a correspondence. A couple of
years after meeting via letters, I visited David for the first time and
have visited him every year since the mid-1990s.

What I remember most about our first meeting was David’s gentle and
unassuming manner. The thoughtfulness, intellectual curiosity, and humor I
had observed in his letters were even more apparent in person.

At that time he was a frequent book reviewer, and he wrote about several
books published by my press. His reviews of books about women, race, and
history were thoughtful essays that made insightful contributions to the
subjects he covered.

As a Black woman and a feminist who has been committed to nonviolence
throughout my life, I have experienced the many ways in which David is
thoroughly committed to nonviolence and peacemaking, which his exemplary
disciplinary record reflects. As an author and activist centering issues of
white supremacy, patriarchy, and heterosexism, I am moved by his lifelong
commitment to racial and gender justice.

It is now nearly 30 years since we met, and David, one of the kindest and
gentlest souls I know, is still incarcerated in a New York state
maximum-security prison. At age 76, after 39 years of incarceration, he
poses no threat to the community and quite the opposite would increase the
community’s measure of kindness, generosity and wisdom.

It is time for New York to move past the paradigm of retribution and
endless punishment and take a second look at the harsh sentencing laws
passed in the early years of the mass incarceration era and still in effect
today. David, who is white, is serving a life sentence for his
participation with a Black radical group in the 1981 Brinks robbery, which
turned tragically fatal with the deaths of a Brinks armored car guard and
two Nyack police officers. Although he was unarmed and did not shoot
anyone, under New York’s felony murder law he was convicted of murder for
his role as a getaway driver and sentenced to 75 years to life, a virtual
life without parole sentence.

Three other participants in the Brinks robbery who, like David, had been
members of the Weather Underground, have been released over the years —
Marilyn Buck for medical reasons a month before she died of cancer, Judith
Alice Clark and Kathy Boudin on parole. David’s only paths to freedom would
be gubernatorial clemency or the passage of the Elder Parole bill,
currently before the state Legislature, which would allow long-serving
elders to be evaluated for release at a parole hearing. These two measures
are urgently needed in David’s and other elders’ cases, not only to prevent
more COVID deaths but also to mitigate the harm, primarily to communities
of color, done by an overly long, harsh, and retributive sentencing

I urge the Legislature to pass the Elder Parole bill, and I join hundreds
of other supporters, including four Nobel Peace laureates and the renowned
author Michelle Alexander, in calling on Cuomo to grant clemency to David

*Barbara Smith served on the Albany Common Council from 2006 to 2013. In
2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.*
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