Category: Friends of Justice

Friends of Justice brings it all back home

Robert E. Lee iconography in Jackson MS

By Alan Bean

This is Day 6 of our Friends of Justice Reunion Tour.  We started off in Houston, Texas at a vigil for Ramsey Muniz.  Nancy Bean opened and closed the event with prayer while I explained how, back in 1994, Ramsey Muniz was framed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Then it was on to Church Point, Louisiana, where we visited with Ann and James Colomb, their children and grandchildren.  Six years ago, Nancy and I were in Lafayette when Ann and three of her sons were released from prison.  At their trial, thirty-one convicted drug dealers testified that they had sold millions of dollars to the Colomb family.  I had been arguing that this testimony was the product of perjury parties behind bars produced and directed by Brett Grayson, the ethically challenged Assistant US Attorney.  Three months after the Colombs were convicted, the truth finally emerged in all its sleazy glory and federal judge Tucker Melancon ordered that Ann and her sons be released immediately and that a full-scale investigation of the federal prison system be launched.  It was the Department of Justice that should have been investigated, but that would have landed a bit too close to home.

The next day we drove to Jackson, MS where we visited with attorneys associated with Curtis Flowers, the native of Winona, MS who has been tried six (6) times on the same murder charges.  The Office for Capital Defense is now located in the Robert E. Lee building in Jackson, an elegant art nouveau building constructed in the 1920s as an homage to the iconic Confederate general. (more…)

Coverage of drug bust reveals healthy skepticism

By Alan Bean

A routine drug bust in Fort Worth, Texas has sparked a firestorm of media interest.

Seventeen people have been arrested, almost all of them charged with selling small amounts of marijuana to an undercover agent.

Fifteen of the defendants are students at Texas Christian University and four are football players.  Without the sports connection, no one would give much attention to a routine drug roundup, but in Fort Worth the Horned Frogs are the biggest thing going.

Reading through the half-dozen stories in this morning’s Star-Telegram, I couldn’t help thinking about the big Tulia drug bust in 1999.  But there is a difference.  Media response to the Tulia bust was universally positive.  Seldom was heard a discouraging word . . . until Friends of Justice got involved.

But the local paper’s coverage of the big TCU bust ranges from cautious praise for the school’s proactive stance against the drug scourge to deep skepticism.

Texas has changed a lot since 1999.  The wisdom of the war on drugs is no longer assumed. (more…)

Thinking and shouting in Chicago

By Alan Bean

Three Friends of Justice people are attending the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago this week.  Melanie Wilmoth and I are here, as is the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, Friends of Justice board member and associate pastor at St Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas.  Speaking of Methodists, a contingent of 40 United Methodists from across the nation, led by the indefatigable Rev. Laura Markle Downton, are in Chicago for the conference.  These are the folks who recently convinced their denomination to divest from for profit prisons.

I was bone weary when we entered the old fashioned elegance of the Drake Room for evening worship, but I left pumped and inspired.  The highlight of the evening was a stunning sermon on the familiar story of Daniel in the lion’s den from the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.  Watson preaches in the traditional black style.  In the final ten minutes, brief bolts of organ music punctuated every phrase.  “I know it’s late,” he assured us, “and I ain’t gonna keep you long.  And I hope you know that, coming from a Baptist preacher, that don’t mean nothing.”

Dr. Watson didn’t just preach in the old time fashion, he interpreted the scriptures in the old time style, literally.  If God could deliver Daniel, the preacher told us, God can deliver you. 

Normally, this would bother me.  Isn’t this Daniel in the lion’s den thing just a folk story?  I mean, it didn’t really happen, did it?  And didn’t the author of the story refer to King Darius when it should have been Cyrus?  And can I really believe that if somebody threw me into a den of hungry lions I would emerge unscathed?

I wasn’t the least bit bothered by Dr. Watson’s straightforward exegesis, and I’ll tell you why.  So long as the preacher gets the application right, I don’t really care what school of biblical interpretation he follows.  Watson talked about the lions of mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement.  He compared the steadfast obedience of Daniel to the grace Barack Obama has shown when the lions in his world insisted he produce a birth certificate.  When Watson came to the part where knaves use flattery to appeal to a king’s vanity, Watson talked about black politicians who don’t realize they are being used until the game is over.

The story of Daniel, like so many stories from the Bible, is about remaining faithful in the face of oppression.  Black America understands that message.  Earlier in the day, Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine and the founder of a nationwide mentoring program for at-risk children, told us about her visit to one of the fortresses on the African coast where, for centuries, men, women and children waited for the slave ship to come.  In graphic detail, she described the horrors of the middle passage.  She said African Americans need to teach these things to our children and, if we have forgotten, to ourselves.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that makes white Americans profoundly uncomfortable.  All of that stuff happened so very long ago.  It was awful, to be sure, but why talk about it in polite company; it’s divisive, it just stirs things up.  I didn’t own any slaves and none of you have a personal experience with slavery so . . . let’s call the whole thing off. 

Black America needs to talk about the stuff white America needs to forget.  Or maybe we too need to remember, we just don’t know it yet.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright gave the benediction tonight.  Yes, that Jeremiah Wright.  Barack Obama’s former pastor.  The guy who enraged white America by suggesting that America’s chickens might be coming home to roost.  I was riding in a van with several black passengers when the towers fell in Manhattan.  Their reaction mirrored Wright’s.  Black and white Americans live in two different worlds, experientially and religiously.

There are plenty of white folks who share the ethical commitments of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  We oppose the war on drugs, we think mass incarceration has been a disaster, and we want to address the conditions that foster violence and joblessness in poor urban neighborhoods.  But you would never hear a white person who believes these things preaching like the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson.  Most white progressives would be offended by biblical preaching.  If religion must be referenced at all, let it be generic religion, devoid of narrative content.   None of that Jesus stuff. 

White progressives (with a few blessed exceptions) associate words like Jesus, Bible, prayer, salvation and deliverence with the religious Right.  And, to be fair, the religious folk you see on the television and hear on the radio rarely reflect the kingdom priorities of Jesus.

Unlike their white counterparts, black progressives can, to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Freddie Haynes, think and shout at the same time. “If you think,” he told us, “you will thank.  Think about how great our God is and you can’t help but get your shout on.”

Why do white Christians have such a hard time mixing kingdom ethics with shouts of praise.  I’m not sure, but the world would be a better place if we got over it.

And now there are three!

ImageFriends of Justice is excited to announce the hiring of a new Legal Director, Lisa D’Souza (pictured on right).
 
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lisa has dedicated her career to helping the truly disadvantaged.  She worked for two years with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid representing migrant workers, six years representing people enrolled in public benefit programs like Medicaid and food stamps, and, most recently, with the Nashville Metropolitan Public Defenders Office.
 
In her role as Legal Director, Lisa will manage case intake, conduct legal research and analysis on the various cases Friends of Justice is involved with, and help to shape our narrative campaigns.
 
The Friends of Justice team is now comprised of Ms. D’Souza, Executive Director, Alan Bean, and Outreach Director, Melanie Wilmoth.
 
Alan, Melanie, and Lisa were recently selected to participate as a team in an online program through the Harvard Kennedy School. The program, “Leadership, Organizing, and Action: Leading Change,” is designed to help leaders develop the skills to organize communities for change and is taught by professor and community organizer Dr. Marshall Ganz.
 
 

Progressives should be wary of Ron Paul

There is a lot to like about Ron Paul.  He opposes the war on drugs; he is anti-war, and he doesn’t like the Patriot Act.  Who could ask for anything more?

If you believe Adele M. Stan, progressives should be asking for much, much more.  Ron Paul’s libertarianism may overlap with the progressive agenda at important points, but it flows from a entirely different source.  Stan associates Paul with the anti-civil rights John Birch Society as well as the modern Reconstruction movement.  My research has reached similar conclusions.

Progressives contend that we’re all in this thing together; Libertarians say we’re all on our own.   Progressivism is consistent with religious altruism; libertarianism logically tends toward the moral nihilism of Ayn Rand. A philosophical difference that great can’t be mended with duct tape and baling wire.  Friends of Justice endorses a Common Peace Agenda that embraces the legitimate rights and needs of all people.  We aren’t satisfied with simply ending the war on drugs or reducing the size of the prison population; we seek what Martin Luther King Jr. called The Beloved Community. 

Those in search of the common good must choose their coalition partners with great care.  We don’t have to agree on every point, but we must be working toward the same broad goal.  What kind of America are we trying to create?  AGB (more…)