Sunday, November 23, 2008

NAACP Seminar: Criminal Justice System

Have you ever been in the criminal justice system, and wondered why it took so long to go through it? Are you or somebody you know, in the system right now?


The Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP held a seminar at the Johnson City Public Library recently, to address the issues that African-Americans face every day in a system, that seems to be geared against them. Information learned from the seminar has long-range implications for all African-Americans in the Tri-Cities, not just in Johnson City or Washington County.

It is for that reason, the Douglass Alumni website will be spotlighting the message each of the speakers had for the group, because the knowledge told on this Saturday, is information that everyone can use. Each message will be published in its entirety every day of this coming Thanksgiving week.

"We get a lot of calls in the NAACP office," says chapter president Ralph Davis, "that 'we can't get the judge to do this or that.. we can't get the prosecutor to come to terms, our defense attorney doesn't seem to be moving. This meeting is just a way to try and get the community to see why the wheels roll the way they do."

Just about every aspect of the criminal justice system in the Tri-Cities apoke to the seminar audience. Speakers included:

Washington County Criminal Court Judge Bob Cupp of General Sessions Court.. He says he's tired of a justice system that sends young people to prison to be adults, but yet, does not rehabilitate them to return to society. You may not be shocked at the number of drug cases he deals with every day, but you may be surprised at who he lays the blame on, for not rising to the occasion for preventing the problem from reoccuring.

Assistant District Attorney Cecil Mills, an African-American, who also pastors the Friendship Baptist Church in Greeneville.. He spoke about how prosecutors reach the decision of why to charge someone after police charge them, and even related a racial profiling episode in the Tri-Cities that happened to HIM, a Tennessee prosecutor.

Officer Allen Rutledge of the Johnson City Police Department, who specializes in recognizing gang symbols, activities and mannerisms.. His expertise on gang culture and its symbols is both surprising and shocking. You won't believe what your kids are being influenced by nowadays.

Marcus Gregory, a 21-year-old convicted murderer and confessed drug dealer, whose emotional speech to the group appealed to young people on how to avoid a life of crime. What seems like a youthful black man with lots of promise, was deterred by a sinister life of drugs and crime that eventually put the death of another man on his conscience, and the man's blood on his young hands.

And, Tom Jesse, a defense attorney in Johnson City, whose experiences with victims of racial profiling in the Tri-Cities and East Tennessee are both chilling and thought-provoking. His laundry list of things to do if you are ever stopped by police, or if you are ever arrested, should be written down and kept either at home near the phone, or in your car's glove compartment.

"The families that unfortunately get involved in criminal proceedings, don't always understand why things don't move in the direction they think they should," says Mr. Davis. "The justice system is very complicated and it is indeed a very slow system, even harder to understand. This seminar is not a cure-all, but hopefully there will be more understandings about attorneys, the judges, the victims, and the legal process."

"We're pleased to see several young people here at the seminar, too," he says. "We want to try and educate our youth to show them what's going to be involved if they get in the system."

Misunderstandings have apparently been building between African-Americans in the Tri-Cities, and the criminal justice system, especially in Johnson City, which has the highest number of minorities among its population. "It finally reached the point," Mr. Davis says, "where it was necessary to get everybody in one room to talk about the problems. We have been planning this meeting for the past 7 or 8 months. There is a lot of information to digest in a short amount of time on this Saturday, and hopefully, everybody will get their questions answered."

If you have any questions about the criminal justice system and how it works, or if you or someone you know are in a seemingly hopeless criminal situation, please call the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP at (423) 426-2851.

All this week, we will spotlight the speeches each of the above speakers made at the seminar, posted on this website. The information is so good, it needs to be shared with everybody in the Tri-Cities. Please take the time and read the words of inspiration from each person, so you can learn from their knowledge:

MONDAY: Criminal Judge Bob Cupp
TUESDAY: Assistant D.A. Cecil Mills
WEDNESDAY: Marcus Gregory
THURSDAY: Defense Attorney Tom Jesse
FRIDAY: J.C. Police Officer Allen Rutledge

After this week, the speechs and pictures will move over to the "NEWS OF OUR DOUGLASS FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS" section of the website, since the seminar happened in Johnson City.