There’s a lot of open country between Dallas and Little Rock. Texarkana goes by in a flash, as does the once-famous town of Hope. The Little Rock metro area boasts just under half a million souls, but just over 180,000 live in the city, about 55% of them are white and 40% black. But in the older parts of town you don’t see many white faces.
Physically, the Central High hasn’t changed much since Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the military to protect nine black students from a howling white mob fifty years ago. As high schools go, Central is an architectural marvel. Classic statues representing Ambition, Personality, Personality and Preparation peer down from the ornate façade. There’s a reflecting pool on the front lawn surrounded by limestone benches donated by alumni. In 1957, Central was a white institution in a white neighborhood.
Things have changed. The neighborhood surrounding Central High School appears to be over 80% black. A few of the older homes have white folks on the front porch; but not many.
The Little Rock Nine have evolved into home grown heroes-much like Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama. Across the street from the school, a tiny national park has been erected in their honor. There’s even a visitor’s center to satisfy the curiosity of tourists (that’s where you can find me at 7:45 tomorrow morning). On one corner, an old gas station has been preserved in immaculate condition as if time had stood still. But glance down the street and you will see an Obama lawn sign right across the road from Central High School.
A few blocks away, Martin Luther King Blvd takes you across I-630 to the state capitol where a striking set of lifelike Little Rock Nine statues are prominently featured. Former Governors Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee have worked hard to associate their names with these public memorials.
On the opposite side of the state capitol, another statue celebrates the heroism of “The Confederate Women of Arkansas, whose pious ministrations to our wounded soldiers soothed the last hours of those who died for the object of their tenderest love.”
This statue was erected by the State of Arkansas and the Confederate Veterans.
The horrendous suffering of the Civil War explains why federal troops were so deeply resented by Little Rock residents in 1957-“the war of northern aggression” had not been forgotten.
The federal courthouse where Alvin Clay’s trial begins tomorrow is a few blocks down from the state capitol. It’s a spanking new facility, erected in 2006, two years after the government of the United States used perjured testimony to secure a fraudulent indictment against Clay.
Everyone wants to know why I am walking the 1.8 miles (I measured this afternoon) between Central High School and the federal courthouse tomorrow morning. Have I contacted the media? Have I made placards? Have I devised a nifty chant?
No I haven’t. If I have some company tomorrow I will be pleased; but I’m not trying to draw attention to myself or grab a cheap photo opportunity. If I end up walking alone, that’s just fine. I am making this walk because I need to. The accomplishments of 1957 were remarkable, but I need to remind myself that the battle lines have shifted dramatically in past fifty years.
The Little Rock Nine scored a smashing victory and we are right to honor them. But the new civil rights movement, when it comes, will not be about segregated schools, drinking fountains, buses and lunch counters; it will be about our broken criminal justice system.
Prosecutors at the state and federal level are largely unaccountable. In an abstract sense, we all ascribe to the principle of equal justice under law. But in the concrete world, it is commonly assumed that the folks protecting us from the bad guys should be as nasty as they wanna be.
I am not suggesting that all federal prosecutors are rogues. It’s just that, when they choose to misbehave, they get a pass. In some circles, the willingness to engage in underhanded behavior is highly prized.
The government has asked federal judge Leon Holmes to bar any mention of vindictive prosecution from the courtroom. If the government gets its way, none of the crimes and misdemeanors I have catalogued in my seven-part series will reach the ears of jurors.
And the government will almost certainly get its way.
I received a lot of hate mail over the long weekend. People can’t believe that Alvin Clay could have been indicted if he wasn’t guilty. My critics seem willing to stipulate to everything I have alleged against the government; they just don’t care.
You know Clay is guilty; the reasoning goes, because the government wants to convict him. And since Clay is guilty, the government is justified no matter how many laws are broken and no matter how many constitutional principles are ground into the dust.
Friends of Justice was similarly vilified when we stood up for the Tulia defendants, the Colomb family and the Jena 6.
As I passed by the federal courthouse late this afternoon, I noticed the inscription on the cornerstone: “United States of America: George W. Bush, president, 2006.”
Within a few months of the building’s completion, United States Attorney Tim Griffin, (the highest ranking law enforcement official in Eastern Arkansas) had resigned in the wake of allegations that he had suppressed black votes in the Florida general election in 2000. It has subsequently come to light that Griffin was the genius behind the Swift boat Veterans for Truth episode in 2004. His latest assignment is digging up dirt on Barack Obama.
The previous United States Attorney, Bud Cummins, was fired to make room for the president’s hatchet man.
Griffin has never been asked to answer for his actions. He never will be.
This time tomorrow, I will be reporting on the first day of Alvin Clay’s trial. Please stay tuned.