Sunday, March 08, 2015

Mary Ann Twitty's Magic Wand & Tony Wright's Wrongful Conviction By Philly PD

Nothing to see here folks!  Ferguson Police chief Tom Jackson
Embattled Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson (pictured left) is the hands-down winner of this week's "Bury My Head In The Sand Award".

In a recent interview with CBS News he claimed that:

"There is not a racial problem in the police department. We clearly have a racial divide that is perceived by a large part of the community." 

"I challenge that anyone was harassed (by police). Racial profiling is not only prohibited, but it's illegal."

Come on dude, really?

The findings from the recently released Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department initiated in 2014 after the death of teenager Michael Brown would suggest otherwise.

As widely reported, while blacks make up 67% of Ferguson's population, between 2012 - 2014 every time a person in Ferguson was arrested for "resisting arrest", they were black; people of color also made up 93% of the arrests in the same period.

Oh, and the dog bite thing too. Every single incident involving a Ferguson Police K-9 dog biting someone between 2012 and 2014, the victim was African-American. Every. Single. Time.

Now obviously all those stupid racist e-mails shared by employees of both the police department and court were disturbing and remarkably juvenile given what the folks passing them around do for a living, but Dinesh D'Souza, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and their ilk say stuff just as ignorant on television and radio all the time. 

What's far more disturbing than obnoxious jokes that demean people because of their race, is the reality that the entrenched systematic bias and intentional discrimination against people of color taking place within the department was not simply limited to a "few bad apples".

The DOJ report makes it clear that Ferguson police worked in tandem with court officials to aggressively criminalize run-of-the-mill, non-criminal municipal code violations like excessively tinted windows, broken tail lights, loose tail pipes, or routine traffic violations to intentionally boost municipal revenue.

They were able to do it with the help of people like Ferguson Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty; one of three Ferguson municipal employees to be fired or resign in recent days as a result of the scathing DOJ report.

Ferguson Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty (R) next to Darren Wilson
That's Twitty pictured at left with the short hair and big earrings; the smiling guy in the blue shirt with the hat?

That's former Ferguson PD officer Darren Wilson (the killer of unarmed teenager Michael Brown)  at a bar in Ferguson,

Twitty  was recently fired after being cited in the DOJ report.

Why? For using her position to help "fix" tickets and citations for friends, co-workers and relatives.

For example, according to the DOJ report an unidentified friend of a relative of Twitty's e-mailed her to ask for help with a ticket - Twitty e-mailed back: "Your $200 ticket has magically disappeared!"

Twitty not only had the magic touch, she used it on multiple occasions to make citations and tickets vanish whenever she wanted. So depending on who you are in Ferguson, and who you know, tickets can lead to your being jailed - or they can "magically disappear".

People like Twitty are the less-often seen face of America's two-tier justice system; entrenched functionaries who operate the internal "bureaucracy gears" of a legal system that views and treats defendants differently based on their ethnicity, race and socio-economic background.

Twitty represents the behind-the-scenes functionaries who work in compliance with the police department, processing all the paperwork to make sure that black Ferguson citizens were routinely issued summonses or warrants when payments on minor tickets were missed, or people failed to show up for court for the minor code violations mentioned above. Just to keep the revenue flowing.

Based on the astronomical arrest rates of black people in Ferguson, no wonder Twitty could afford to make tickets vanish at will for her friends and associates - little fiefdoms like Ferguson (we have them here in New Jersey too) are able to function because people like Twitty know how to make the system rack up the charges, fees and penalties on those who are innocent; or only responsible for minor infractions.    

Remember, these minor code violations in Ferguson were largely targeting working poor people who could scarcely afford to pay the fines they were issued; many were jailed and some lost their jobs, or cars as a result of being unfairly locked up in what is essentially, Ferguson's illegal debtor's prison.
My personal favorite is the "Manner of Walking" code that's ostensibly a safety requirement to ensure pedestrians walk on the side of roads or on sidewalks; but the ugly reality?

Ferguson police use it as a ready excuse to stop black people at will simply for walking.

95% of people stopped for "manner of walking" are black; former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson used "manner of walking" to stop and confront Michael Brown as he was walking back from a convenience store with a friend back in 2014. We know how that ended.

According to an article in the LA Times by Molly Hennesy-Fiske, Ferguson's "manner of walking" code is intentionally vague; so police can regularly stop black Ferguson citizens for anything - walking too slow, too fast, walking "suspiciously", with a book-bag or anything else a police officer can think of to stop and harass a person of color as a means to come up with things to charge them with.

Mary Ann Twitty and two senior police officials are the just the first three of what is sure to be a slew of people in Ferguson who will loose municipal jobs as a result of the DOJ findings - the police chief-in-denial Tom Jackson is likely on his way out, the Mayor too.

The findings and statistics in the DOJ report have made global headlines and shed light and media attention on the extent of bias within the structure of law enforcement and court systems in America.

The hard truth that America is reluctant to face, is that Ferguson is not an anomaly. It's not just secret interrogation facilities used by the Chicago PD, or rampant 'Stop & Frisk' in New York City - it is a nationwide pattern.

Tony Wright (center) with his son Tony, Jr. (left) back in the fall of 1991
One of the most disturbing examples that warrants more main stream media attention is the case of a black defendant in Philadelphia named Tony Wright.

His story was profiled in an amazing piece published in the latest issue of Rolling Stone by Paul Slotaroff.

If you haven't heard of the case of Tony Wright and the absurd miscarriage of justice he's endured as a result of the broken police culture in the city of Philadelphia, you really need to take a few minutes and read Paul Solotaroff's article on the Website appropriately entitled, "Why Is This Man Still in Jail?"

I read it this morning over breakfast and I'm still trying to get my head around the facts.

Wright had a tough upbringing in North Philadelphia. At age 20 he'd finally turned his life around with the help of extended family, was on the right path and had a steady job when Philly cops knocked on his door in 1992 and asked him to come down to the station; 23 years later he's still in jail - the problem is he didn't do anything.

Philly cops, including Detectives Martin Devlin and Frank Jastrzembski used a false confession, illegal interrogation techniques, concocted false evidence and coerced two crackheads who didn't even know Wright to frame him for the brutal murder and rape of a 77 year-old woman named Louise Talley.

With the help of The Innocence Project, founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992 as a means to use DNA evidence and modern forensic science to help clear innocent people from crimes for which they (mostly poor black defendants) have been found guilty, Wright has been issued a new trial.

Despite DNA evidence that clearly shows Wright did not rape and kill Louise Talley (DNA taken at the scene proved the actual culprit was a violent former crackhead with a lengthy rap sheet named Ronnie Byrd who used to live in the alley directly behind Talley's Philadelphia home) and has witnesses who can prove he wasn't at the scene at the time of the attack, Philadelphia prosecutors are still determined to keep him incarcerated.

It's an incredible story that's sure to make headlines when the new trial starts. Fortunately, with the help of The Innocence Project, this time Wright will have DNA science and two top flight criminal attorneys on his side.

But as we've seen with Ferguson and with the Rolling Stone profile of Tony Wright, there are many innocent people still trapped in the bowels of a dysfunctional legal system as a result of severely broken police departments - and overzealous stubborn prosecutors like Florida's Angela Corey whose fear of bearing the responsibility for locking up an innocent person and loosing professional face overrides facts, common sense and reason. Remember the Marissa Alexander case?

Consider that Tony Wright has had DNA evidence proving that he's innocent for years and he's still locked up. What blinds prosecutors to the truth when it conflicts with a certainty that exists within their minds?  

Too bad we can't take Mary Ann Twitty's magic wand and wave it over the nation's legal system too make some of the wrongful convictions of innocent Americans disappear - the nation's collective conscience would be the better for it. 

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