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Friday, November 28, 2008

Dobbins/Douglass Renovations Set to Begin

Message to Riverview.. It's on..

The long-awaited renovations to the V.O. Dobbins Community Center will begin in mid-January.

That word from Chris McCartt, Kingsport's Development Services Manager, who says, with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's recent approval of the initial bond resolution for this project and others in the city, the 'hammer will fall on Dobbins at a fast clip now.'

The building renovation will transform one of Kingsport's most historic buildings into a center that will house most of the city's non-profit agencies under one roof.

"Right now, we're waiting for the bond market to show some favorable rates," McCartt says. "Those signs are getting better every day, and as soon as we feel comfortable with them, we'll go ahead and sell those bonds in order to have that cash available for all the capital projects we have in January."


Renovations to the building that once housed Kingsport's all-black school, and the largest African-American school in the East Tennessee-Southwest Virginia region, are estimated to cost around $7.1 million dollars. "There is additional money that will roll over into the V.O. Dobbins project from some of the other capital projects that we project, will come in underbudget," says McCartt. "That will bring the total Dobbins renovation project to around $8.5 to $8.6 million dollars. It's a pretty sizeable capital project in itself."

The Dobbins/Douglass renovation will start with the demolition of the old school auditorium, which has stood mostly unused for years. Several years ago, the auditorium developed a serious water leak in the rear wall that has been neglected for years, which ultimately exposed a severe asbestos problem that was never addressed by city maintenance workers. The auditorium has only been used for a few public events, and the engineering firm in charge of architectural design, says the cost to bring it up to present city and state code, would require a sizeable chunk of the bond issue.

"The Douglass school is one of those special places," says McCartt, "and the auditorium is one of those special pieces of history. People can go back to their high school or middle school and there was always a common bond there. With some people, it was the gymnasium where they enjoyed sporting events.. with others, it was the auditorium which was home to oratorical contests, plays, concerts and ceremonies. We tried eagerly and aggressively to save the auditorium," McCartt says. "That part of the building has, not only the asbestos issues, but heating and cooling problems with a boiler that only heats, and a sinking floor to the right of the stage. We'll take it to the ground, fill in the gaps underneath, to form a foundation for the three-story tower."

Bids for demolition contractors are going out right now at the first weekend of December, and Mr. McCartt says the city will ask potential contractors to hold their estimates for 60 days, which he says will buy the city time to first, get the funding from the sale of the bonds in place, and second, be able to work with the community on a community-wide farewell event for the old building, and also a welcoming ceremony for the new, renovated structure. The end of that 60-day period will be the middle of February, and demolition will have started long before then.

That event will be similar to the one held last February, for the Historic Riverview Apartments. Many people and civic leaders turned out for that event, which was the last public gathering in Riverview for new developments planned for the neighborhood.

Because of the contractor schedule, there may need to be two events in mid-January. One for inside the auditorium, then one outside side for the actual start of the demolition. The Douglass Alumni website, Mr. McCartt says, will be the source of information for those planned events.

"There will be a considerable amount of flexibility for farewell public events to be built into the demolition contract," McCartt says. "We're willing to work with the community on the dates for those, but of course everything will depend on the contractor's schedule. He may want to get the auditorium down quickly, because it's important to see what he's butting up to, on the side of the building that will be left standing. That's also advantageous from a cost standpoint. At the same time, we will be running new electrical service to the building, and it's important to get that in place before the actual construction begins."


Although the American Red Cross backed out of what was thought to be a firm commitment to occupy space in the non-profit center, other tenants for the renovated building are firmly in place. "The Douglass Alumni Association will have office space on the first floor, in the atrium area between the gymnasium and the three-story tower," says McCartt. "Also on that floor will be the Upper East Tennessee Human Resources Agency (UETHRA) and the Neighborhood Services Center.. There's also be an office for Mountain Region Speech and Hearing on that fllor. On the second floor of the tower will be the United Way offices. Kingsport Tomorrow, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, the American Legion, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the local ALS Society will all be on the third floor of the tower."


A second gymnasium, with offices for Kingsport Parks and Recrreation, is also on the drawing board, and is to be built between the present gym and Louis Street. Headstart, which has occupied the building since Douglass School closed in 1966, will be expanded to the back of the building where it is now, with additional classrooms and a separate drop-off entrance for children planned for the Wheatley Street side of the building.

"If there is a date that the community prefers for a celebration event," McCartt says, "we are more than willing to work with people on that and see how we can adjust our schedule on that. Obviously, residents are like the city people.. after so many promises and so long a time, they'd like to see something get started there, get the project moving, get some dirt turned and the project moving forward. I wouldn't want to see a celebration event while the workers are actually working on the building, so the best time would be just before the demolition begins."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

NAACP Seminar: Police---"The Gang's All Here"

Officer Allen Rutledge of the Johnson City Police Department is an expert on gangs and gang violence. At a recent community awareness seminar sponsored by the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP, Officer Rutledge acknowledged what the African-American community in the Tri-Cities has known for many years:

"Gangs in Johnson City.. yes, they are here. American culture today.. it runs the gammut.. everybody thinks "crips and bloods" and of course the traditional groups, the KKK and various skinhead groups. We have evidence of all of them right here in our own backyard."

"American society is very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic.. we've got it all in the United States, and we've got a pretty wide spectrum in Johnson City as well."

"Here are the Juggalo's.. it's considered a hybrid group of the KKK. Believe it or not, there's actually a skinhead group in Johnson City, they call themselves, SARPS, that's Skinheads Again Racial Profiling or Racial Prejudice.. how that works in a twisted mind, I have no idea.."

"There's actually a Kurdish gang that has cropped up, from all the Iraqi immigrants that have moved to Nashville, that police are currently having problems with. No matter what ethnic society you're in, there's going to be a gang that caters to any hatred you might have."

"Why do people join a gang? It gives them family, with people who have common interests, they live where you do, peer pressure that offers protection, they all live in a socio-economically depressed area in a town or city. It offers excitement.."

"You're seeing a lot of intermingling with cultures nowadays.. but the one thing that links them all together, is the criminal element. You can't even just look at a person, a 20-year-old black male wearing baggy pants and red colors and say, 'that person must be a gang member.' It doesn't work that way anymore."

"Video games are glorifying and glamourizing gangs nowadays, too. Even one of the most popular shows on the History Channel right now, called "Gangland" which is supposed to educate us, actually contains hidden notes and items that gang members pick up on, and associate themselves with."

"Even with movies like Scarface, The Sopranos.. there's really no boundaries to what gang members identify themselves with."

"The top right picture and the top left picture are magazines for white supremacist groups.. what better way to get a few dozen white kids into a gang, hate group or skinhead society than to have magazines with pretty women on them.. it's better than showing a picture of Hitler. They're trying to appeal to modern-day culture. There's even one for "Nickelodeon" the kids channel. Kids are easily influenced by what they see on TV, and if you can appeal to them with something like gangs and gang life, they'll be familiar with that culture as they grow up."

"Popular CD's can be part of the gang culture.. the top picture is that of a country CD, the bottom one is that of a white supremacist singer. Again, a picture of a pretty woman on the CD cover, is a lot more appealing to today's gangland society, than a picture of Hitler."

"How did they get here? A lot of them are homegrown, a lot of them have cultural influences.. Some of them are second and third generation.. 'dad was a gang member, and the gang culture starts getting passed down."

"The definition of the Tennessee Code Anotated, as it relates to gangs.. You have to have three or more people in a group.. organized or disorganized, where two or more of them commit a crime, that can be attributed to being part of that group. Identifying with a particular group, even if it's a hate group or gang, is not criminal in and of itself.. there has to be an element of criminal activity that members are involved in, as members of the group. Proving that, from a law enforcement standpoint, is darn near impossible."

"In Tennessee schools, grade six to twelve, school officials do have the right to do something about children's appearance, self-admissions, hand signals that all point to gang involvement, and they can have the child or children removed if they are on school property. But still, you can't just single out a child and pin the label "gang member" on them. You have to compile a list of evidence against the child, before you label them, then putting it all together and seeing what you have."

"Watch the stereotyping, too. You can't just look at a person and call them a gang member.. remember, it is not a crime to be in a gang.. it's what you do and say AS a member, that labels you a gang member. To confuse law enforcement, gang members are always changing their game, changing their colors, their attitudes, to try and throw police off their trail."

"Types of gangs in Johnson City.. the Bloods, the Crips.. there is also an emergence of Hispanic gangs in this area. We do have white supremacist groups here, traditionally KKK and motorcycle gangs."

"Through the Probation and Parole Office, police reports, prisoner releases, interviews, we have identified tatoo's as an identifier of gang activity. In one picture, years ago, it was "Virginia Is For Lovers." The young lady they had modeling it.. she was actually throwing a hand sign that's associated with the Black Gangster Disciples. It's a heart with wings on it. Once they were aware of it, the state had to go back and change it. In another picture, someone was throwing a particular hand sign for the Gangster Disciples, 7-4.. G, being the seventh letter of the alphabet, and 4 being "D." No matter who they are, gang members put a lot of emphasis on numbers and symbols."

"Here's a football player for the University of Kentucky, throwing that same kind of gang sign with the wings. Paul Pierce with the Boston Celtics back this past spring, got into an altercation with some other players from the Atlanta Hawks, started throwing a Bloods sign. I noted that ESPN went out of its way to say this is not gang-related, which to me meant, if they're "crying wolf" over it, there's something there."

"I can't go to Neyland Stadium, stand outside and point to everybody who might have clothing on like this, and say 'they're all in a gang.' The reason why this is worth considering is, I got a call from an investigator out in California.. he said, they had a lot of people congregating wearing Tennessee ball shirts, and he wanted to know why that is. Come to find out.. it's more or less a tribute to the Gangster Disciplines leader Larry Hooper, who's serving a life sentence in prison.
That orange color is to symbolize the orange jumpsuit that he's wearing in prison right now."

"Again, there's no set rules on gangs.. they're constantly changing. There's no end to their creativity."

"These are regular symbols here.. the Converse Shoes and the Houston Astros logos. The Bloods gang like to use the Converse five-pointed star because their favorite number is five. If you wanted to show disrespect to them, then wear the Houston Astros logo, which shows the five-point star broken up. If you see one gang symbol, and later see another symbol that distorts it, then you figure that there's going to be trouble if those two groups get together."

"Down here, everybody knows the New York Yankees symbol, which is always blue and white.. here's another similar one that is blue and green. A lot of companies that make the logo's do it because it's popular, not knowing that they're encouraging gangs to adopt the symbols, and of course, they always say 'well, we didn't know that.' We think they do know it."

"A lot of gang members are leaving tatoo's behind, and going to jewelry. They're doing that, because you can always remove jewelry.. it doesn't make you as obvious. Tatoo's are difficult to hide, and they're tell-tale signs of being in a gang."

"There's the Star of David.. if you see that as graffiti somewhere, or someone wearing that, you would not think that is a gang area, or that they're a gang member, but contrast the Bloods gang whose favorite number is five, with the Crips, whose favorite number is six."

"Johnson City is considered traditional Bloods territory, and we don't see a lot of things that are anti-Bloods. They think of this as pretty safe territory, according to a self-professed Bloods member. Note the tattoo's on his stomach, a sidearm on his left hip, on the back, he has "blood in-blood out," and the other tattoo says "daymoo." That's Swahili for "blood." There's just no end to their creativity."

"St. Cloud Posse.. I thought they'd gone out back in the 90's, but apparently they're still around. Basically, they've got a Grateful Dead following, where people follow them from town to town. Their philosophy is, the world is just one big, dark circus. If you're an outcast from society, and nobody accepts you for what you are, come join us and be part of the Juggalo's. Basically, they just go out and cause chaos."

"Remember the old "Ghost Riders" here in Johnson City? They used to have a compound here, and the guy here, I don't know if that's an old symbol of theirs or not. No, this isn't in California or in Idaho or the Midwest.. it was right here in East Tennessee."

"We don't have much Aryan Brotherhood here.. the skinheads tell us we'll know the A.B. is around, when bodies start showing up."

"These days, it's all about ideology, it's about the beliefs that they have. These white supremacist groups are more anti-government, than they are about anti-race. They want to topple the government, so that their ideology can grow so they can take over the world. It is racially-motivated and I as a police office would not be recognized by them because I'm a police officer."

"The way to keep a gang out of your neighborhood, is to make it uncomfortable for them to live there. Listen to your gut.. if you see something out of the ordinary, based on all the gang stuff we've talked about, report it. If it's in your house, de-glamorize it, make it non-important. A wannabe gang member is a "gonnabe" gang member."

NAACP Seminar: Defense Attorney Advice---KEEP YOUR BIG MOUTH SHUT!

Most of the time, people in the criminal justice system need legal advice BEFORE they get in the system. Defense Attorney Tom Jesse of Johnson City, speaking to a community awareness seminar sponsored by the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP, said most of us say things and answer the police officer's questions without benefit of counsel, and that makes it difficult to defend them. Among the most important remarks he told the group.. SHUT UP AND SAY NOTHING TO THE POLLEY:

"I am counsel for the defense.. I'm the guy that's supposed to help you get through a system that is frought with peril.. Unfortunately, by the time you get to me, you've already messed it up so badly, I can't hardly fix it."

"I need to give you four sets of facts..
It's the civil results of a criminal prosecution."

"A gentleman with his family in Sevier County.. had just left Dollywood. He's pulled over by blue lights, thinking he must have run a stop sign, or speeding or something. He stops his car, and doesn't do anything that would cause the officer any problem. But he's looking at a drawn weapon, that's pointed at his head. He is dragged out of his car, handcuffed and held for about three and a half hours, until they figure out that it is a mistake."

"I'm also thinking of the case, where a gentleman is stopped for a very minor situation, relating to not having his lights on. He walks from his vehicle, and to a house to make a comment while the officer is writing his ticket, and it ends up in a very upsetting, physical scuffle, charges, fights between the officer and the individual, the neighborhood gets all upset."

"I'm thinking of two clients, both of whom have been under arrest, who unfortunately while under arrest, hung themselves in a mental health facility or in the jail within 24 hours."

"I'm thinking of two young men, coming from the country club here in Johnson City, about a quarter to 8 on a Tuesday night, were stopped, ended up with both of them in jail, over what ultimately was no violation of law."

"I'm also thinking of 6 people, coming down Interstate 81 who were stopped and charged with various drug offenses in Sullivan County."

"You tell me, which of those groups of people were black, which were Hispanic, which were white. You tell me, which officers got up that morning, which prosecutors got up that morning.. 'I really don't like Johnny Jones, so I'm going to go find him today and arrest him.'"

"I will tell you there is racial profiling..there is no question, there is racial profiling. There's also male-female profiling, there's also, "you're driving an old, rattle-trap car in a million-dollar-a-house neighborhood" profiling.. there are lot of profiling, every one of you in this room that goes fishing, knows you "try to go where the fish are." You look at little things like where the bugs are buzzing, and you think the fish are biting where all the bugs are."

"Law enforcement doesn't just get up in the morning and decide, well we'll just go out there and hunt down crime, they fish.. they know where the crime is, you know where the crime is. They get up and go fishing where the crime is."

"One way as a defense, is.. don't be there. Your BEST defense is never having to see me, or a police officer ANYWHERE. That is your best defense. We talk about substance abuse.. I'm an 18-year-old Black or Hispanic male.. I've got all the mixed blood, I am a MUTT. I'm gonna go make 7 bucks an hour, selling hamburgers at McDonald's, or I can make 15-hundred dollars a month, selling drugs. It's not just addiction.. This conference we're having here today ought to next be about finding someplace to put people to work. So much of crime, from my perspective, is economics. It is substance abuse, no question about it. Economics, substance abuse, and being JUST PLAIN STUPID."

"We all are just a little bit stupid every once in a while. "I'd like to take back that smack I just gave my spouse." 20 years ago, you hit your spouse and you call the police department, and they say, 'don't do it again, we've got too much to do and too little time and too little manpower to come out and handle it.' These days, domestic crime is what I call a 'designer crime' because the state legislature and law enforcement has decided 'we are going to stop this kind of crime.' So, if they come out nowadays to your house on domestic violence, somebody's going to jail."

"When men come into my office to get divorced, I tell 'em, 'when she starts yelling at you, get up and get out of the house.' I tell the woman the same thing. I have just got a 68-year-old woman out of jail, who smiled at me and said 'I'll go back to jail for another 24 hours if you let me hit him again in the head with a telephone.' That is the truth."

"There are certain things you need to realize that I cannot help you with, as a defense attorney. I can do the best I can to get you through the system, but I can tell you it is better in reference to a crime, that sometimes it is easier to work out a fair plea of a violent crime, where you've lost your temper, fist-fought with your neighbor or something, versus if you're caught with a DUI. For example, if you come in and say 'I need to hire you Mr. Jesse for my DUI, and I look, and they've taken the Breathalizer and they blew 2.4, and I ask them 'where were you?' They say, 'well I was up against that tree that I hit, drunk, going home at 2:30 in the morning.. there's little I can do. I tell them to keep their attorney money."

"Here's what you need to do for a defense, if you are charged with something, or if you think you are going to be charged.. Law enforcement is going to watch you closely, and when you say 'I need to talk to a lawyer,' they'll say 'what do you need a lawyer for? If you're guilty, we just want to talk to you.' They have every right to tell you 'we just want to talk.' If you have ANY reason to believe you've done something wrong, don't talk to the police officer. I realize it makes it harder on him to get his job done, but DON'T TALK TO THE POLICE OFFICER. EVER. What I hate as a defense attorney when I get hired, is.. there's already a four-page statement that they've written, where you've told them about the situation. It is your right to talk to them, you feel remorseful, you've done something, but sometimes you will probably be guilty of some charge, but you'll talk your way into a worse situation. So, DON'T TALK TO THE POLICE OFFICER about anything that has to do with the investigation. Say 'officer, respectfully.. I'd like to call my mom, my dad, my lawyer, my minister, can I call somebody.. I just don't feel comfortable, speaking to you right now."

"The other thing is.. police officers are human beings, I don't care, white, black, hispanic or whatever.. male, female.. The minute you smart off to them, you're gonna get smarted off to, right back. Everybody's got pumped-up adrenaline, and everybody's thinking 'O-K, he's a smart you-know-what, we're gonna have problems with him.' There are no percentages in arguing with the guy who has just arrested you for running your car into a tree because you're drunk. There are no percentages in even being disrespectful. Just be a good public relations person. I'll go to an officer and say 'officer, this is a rare situation, this gentleman has never done something like this.. if that officer has a pretty good feel for you when he worked with you on the scene of whatever happened when he arrested you, you've got a much better chance of me being able to say, 'can we work this out.' Just for your own protection.. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. It will be intimidating.. you will be scared. You'll want to say stuff to try and convince them that you didn't do anything. Every once in a while, I've had an officer look at me, after we've got the charges dropped, MONTHS later, and say 'well if that guy had just told me, I wouldn't have even charged him.' You want to JUST KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT."

"After you get into the system, you also want to keep your mouth shut in jail, too. Keep your mouth shut on the telephone in jail. You don't need to call the neighborhood, and start complaining about what's happened to you. Whether it was right or wrong that you were charged, keep your mouth shut and get an attorney. The public defenders' office has some exceptional lawyers. The reason they are good is, they do this stuff all day, every day. The problem is, they have WAY too much to do. Judge Lauderback in Bristol usually announces that 'if you want an appointed lawyer, we'll be happy to give you one. He's probably not going to spend more than two seconds with you because he doesn've have enough time, and if you're really concerned about your case, you need to get a private attorney.'"

"So here we are, all the way back to the economics of it all. The lack of jobs, why do I sell drugs? You write a 25-dollar bad check that I don't even need to represent you on because it was a bad check, but you don't go down and take care of it quick enough and it gets in the criminal justice system.. you end up on probation, paying 30 bucks a month for six months.. you pay 200 dollars in court costs.. you may have paid your lawyer something, and the bottom line is.. you wouldn't have written that 25-dollar check anyhow, but you're poor or you're out of money. Those kind of things can get in the system, and a lot of that stuff has no way of getting worked out.. There's your signature on the check, there's no money in the account, says the bank."

"Think about those activities and how to avoid them.
Hire one that does CRIMINAL work.
If that lawyer tells you 'I'm going to get you off, because I know the prosecutor, I know the judge, I know the officer.. HIRE ANOTHER LAWYER."

"Back to that circle of people I was talking about.. is there racial profiling? I've always told my kids to be responsible if you're out and about. So far, they have not been racial profiled. But at 2:30 in the morning and they're driving through Johnson City, think about it. There are not many cars out at 2:30 in the morning. Police officers know, about the only people out at 2:30 in the morning, half of them are drunk. Those officers will tell you 'there's a bad apple in every bunch' and there's some cop who's just set outside the Electric Cowboy, and they're gonna know that 3 out of 4 guys that come out of that place at 2:30 in the morning are going to be drunk. It's like shooting fish in a barrel."

"When I tell you not to talk to the police officer, you also have the scary opportunity NOT to take the Breathylizer. Every defense lawyer will tell you 'do not take the Breathylizer, because it guarantees that if you have been drinking, they will convict you. If you don't take the Breathylizer, of course, you lose your license for six months, no question. But you may not be convicted of a crime."

"I truly believe in the jury system, but it's not cheap, guys. For me to carry you through trial, is an expensive proposition, BUT.. to be convicted of a DUI first offense, you'll pay a 350 dollar fine, you'll pay 250-300 dollars in court costs, you'll pay 100 or so dollars for the drug and alcohol program, you'll pay 30 to 50 dollars a month probation fee for a year.. whatever your present car insurance is, triple it for the next three years.. You will have a limited driver's license during that time. It just doesn't pay to drink and drive."

"Profiling occurs to me, because generally, you are different. Obviously, if you, as a Black person, are out in the Ridges at 2:30 in the morning, you KNOW what everybody's going to be thinking.. you might have just dropped off Dr. Smith out there, but if you get stopped coming out of there, you'll be profiled."

"The two boys coming out of the Johnson City Country Club at a quarter to eight.. were black. they were members of the basketball team over here at ETSU.. they got stopped, and I won't name the officers, but I think he saw them coming out of the country club and racially profiled them.. two black kids, coming out of the Johnson City Country Club. I don't know whether they weaved a little bit on the road, but I do know they had absolutely NOTHING to drink. They get stopped.. one goes off, yelling. By the time it gets done, the gentleman who was quiet, the driver.. the officer figures out he doesn't have insurance, his license is expired, and the tag on his car is expired. The believability goes down the tubes."

"The gentleman in Sevierville, with the gun in his face?.. white man. Two white children. Got stopped down there, dragged out of his car and handcuffed. When the police dispatcher put out a call, saying there was a stolen car, she accidently reversed the numbers on the tag. My guy had the tag of the description she put out. Total mistake, TOTAL MISTAKE. He was crying, begging them, telling them the car wasn't stolen, please call Southwest Virginia.. they didn't believe him. When they finally figured it out, the officer who arrested him DID NOT HAVE HIS HANDCUFF KEY. We were 45 minutes getting his hands out of those handcuffs. It was a horrible situation, with your 6 year old and your 4 year old, sitting in the car, watching. We filed a civil case in federal court, and the judge dismissed it.. we appealed and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court said if it were a FAIR mistake, police are allowed to make FAIR mistakes. We did settle that case, where the state did not want to go back up on appeal, and they paid some money in that case."

"The whole thing about profiling, in defending you.. what are you doing, and where are you, when you're stopped? I can make a case of unfairness with police, prosecutors, your boss.."

"Had a man come by to see me, just beside himself.. told me he'd just been fired.. an 18-year employee of a company. I said wait a minute.. you're not over 40 so there's no age discrimination.. you're not crippled, you're not black, you're not a woman, you don't have this, that or the other.. you're a white male under 40.. there's no discrimination, what do you want? He said, it's not fair, I got fired. I said 'what did you get fired for?' He said I got an email with a racial slur joke, and I laughed.. didn't think anything of it.. sent it to two of my co-workers, maybe three. It wasn't out there 12 or 13 minutes, and Human Resources called me to the office and told me 'you're fired.' Let me tell you the NEW way everybody's going to get in trouble: don't put stuff in a computer, that you don't want somebody else to see someday. If you can't show your little grey-haired mama what you've put in that computer, don't put it in there. Somebody's gonna find it, and you're gonna have problems."

"The hardest part of my job is.. I cannot tell you what to do as a defense attorney. I can recommend things, but I can't tell you what to do about a charge you're facing. There are times I have to look at a defendant and say 'you have a right to stand on what you believe, I've got you the best possible plea deal you can get anywhere, and you can take your chances. I cannot make that decision for you. If you ever find yourself in the criminal justice system, don't ever let some criminal defense lawyer force you into doing something you don't want to do, but be willing and prepared to suffer the consequences of whatever you decide."


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NAACP Seminar: "And A Child Shall Lead Them."

Before we introduce Marcus Gregory, consider these national statistics:

***Of 249,400 jail and prison inmates in 2004 (latest numbers available)(Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice):
51,800 (20.8%) are Hispanic
65,900 (26.4%) are White
112,500 (45.1%) are Black

***1 out of 20 jail inmates are Black, and 1 out of 180 are White (Source: Human Rights Watch)

***In the 1990's, there were more Black men between 20-29 in jail, than in college (Source: Craig Haney Ph.D. and Phillip Zimbardo Ph.D.)

***Most drug offenders are White, but there are more Black men in prison on drug offenses than White men (Human Rights Watch)

Often, the truest words spoken, are those that come from our young black people. It is a pity that many of those words are spoken from experience with the criminal justice system. Marcus Gregory has one of those stories to tell, and he related that to a recent community awareness seminar, sponsored by the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP, in an effort to educate other young black men how NOT to follow in his footsteps:

"My name is Marcus Gregory.. I'm 21 years old. I've been incarcerated for the last 6 years, for a first degree murder charge, that occurred when I was 15 here in Johnson City. I've been at the Washington County Detention Center for 4 years now, and I did 2 years down at the Juvenile Detention Center at Johnson City."

"I've basically been all through that jail in the worst part, in the max and the low-security they got there. I got an 18-year sentence on manslaughter, 15 at manslaughter, and 3 at 30 per cent for aggravated assault."

"Mr. (Ralph) Davis (NAACP President) has been there for me the whole time, helping me out with the case. I contacted him about 4 or 5 years ago. because I felt the District Attorney and my lawyer were in cahoots with each other, and was working against me. But come to find out, that wasn't true. I wound up doing 18 years out of the whole deal."

"I was involved in a drug-trafficking ring in New York, I'm originally from Brooklyn, New York. I was involved in it at the age of 14, transporting drugs back and forth from Florida and North Carolina, Tennessee, Boston, and New York."

"The guy I was working for, he got a little jealous and aggravated at me because I decided to leave him alone and go on my own two feet and sell my own dope down here in Johnson City. We got into a dispute over the case, and unfortunately, he wound up being killed in the process."

"I'd known him for about 10-15 years.. he actually watched me grow up in Brooklyn, and picked me in the process.. picked me in New York to come out here and help him transport his dope. He convinced my mother that he was helping me with a business that he had been running in North Carolina and Tennessee, moving furniture, so she let me come out here with him. I wound up being out there on Wilson Avenue every day for about a year and a half, selling dope."

"It was an experience for me, definitely was. I went through a residential program that Judge Cupp was talking about at the County Jail. I got to sit down with Mr. Charles Bellefont for a little while, and I found out some things about myself, while being in that program, that I honestly didn't see at the time. He kept telling me that I had "tunnel vision" the whole time that I was out there on the street, and it took me about six months to really realize that before I graduated the program. It took me a while to finally realize my problems and my issues, working with Mr. Bellefont."

"I'm currently still in the jail (system). I got 18 years, but I'm on a temporary furlough right now, Mr. Davis helped me get that. It's been a struggle.. it's kinda hard having to be in there, every day, having to have another person, another man, tell you when to sleep, when you can watch TV, what you can eat, what you can't eat, how many visitors you can have, who you can talk to. I've been blessed not to have become institutionalized by being in there the last 6 years, but I'm just trying to integrate as smoothly as possible back into society, and I've had Mr. Davis help me out with that. To the fullest, he's been there.. he's been more of a father figure than my real father, and I'm just happy to be here. I just figured I'd tell my story.. I'm not used to speaking, but hopefully I can help somebody else."

RALPH DAVIS (President of the Johnson City-Washington County NAACP Chapter):
"Since Marcus has been incarcerated. the programs that Judge Cupp had been talking about, he has completed those programs. He also has worked on his G.E.D., and the only part he lacks is the math part, and he's about to take that test. He has done a remarkable job about rehabilitating himself, and it's just unfortunate what happened, but it shows what can happen once you decide to work within the system, and make the system work for you."


Sunday, November 23, 2008

NAACP Seminar: D.A Weighs Fairness Against Evidence And The Law

"If we cannot find the truth, then what is our hope of justice?"
Scott Jureau ("Presumed Innocent")

Assistant District Attorney Cecil Mills recites his favorite book, later turned into a popular movie about a popular legal scholar who, himself, was accused of murder. D.A. Mills is also Reverend Mills.. he's the pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Greeneville, Tennessee. He told a recent community awareness seminar sponsored by the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP that it is impossible for him to prosecute a defendant, without first putting himself in their shoes:

I had a friend when I started prosecuting, who once told me 'you are part of the most powerful office in the state of Tennessee.' I had no idea of what he was talking about. Over the years, I have come to understand what he meant. The courts have determined this. He or she is answerable to no superior, has virtually unbridled descretion in determining whether to prosecute, and for what offense. No court may interfer with his discretion to prosecute. The formulation of this decision, he or she is answerable to no one. It is indeed, the most powerful office in Tennessee today. It's responsibilities are awesome. The potential for abuse is frightening. The court system may not interfere with the discretionary powers of the District Attorney General, in their control over criminal prosecutions. This power is deeply rooted in the common law, and is a vital part of our common law tradition."

"This discretion has its outer limits."

"For 20-something years, I've been walking into courts as a prosecutor. I did not want to be a prosecutor. Most of the law books in my library for for defense attorney books. I started off wanting to be the next F. Lee Bailey. Whenever I would go into legal libraries, clerks would always see that I was always going over to the books on defense attorneys. It is only by the Movements of God that I have ended up as a prosecutor."

"Most of the time when I walk into court, and I cover all of them, in the Third Judicial District, I participate in every kind of case. 90 per cent of all the cases I see, I start off not knowing a thing about them. Most of the time, the officers or some private citizen has gone and taken a warrant, and I know nothing about the situation or the person."

"You are not going to find many officers talking about racial profiling.. you'll probably need to leave that to the defense attorney (Tom Jesse)."

"In criminal court most of the time, the prosecutor in 90 per cent of the time, doesn't know anything about the case. He finds out when the case is called that, if he is experienced and learned on how to do it, if the person says, 'I am not guilty,' the judge will pass him down, and that's usually the first time the prosecutor is able to see exactly what he is dealing with. A police officer, a deputy, a private citizen who has taken out a warrant, without any consultation with a prosecutor. You have to make some quick judgements at the time. Is that warrant valid? Does it really seem to state the crime? Generally, the victim will be there, and the judge will ask you to talk to them during the first break of the court session, and that, many times, is the first time you have ever talked with anyone about that case. The more serious cases where charges are brought by warrant, and in those cases, the prosecutor has talked to some officer, some
detective. Those are not the majority of the cases. You have got to be prepared to make some quick decisions. How strong is this case? Is it something that should be settled right then and there at the first court session? Is it something that you should just drop? If not, is it something that can be worked out?"

"If you drop the case, somebody is going to be really mad. That prosecutor is not some machine.. they are human beings and you may feel differently, but that's what they are. There will always be someone that's ready to jump all over you if you drop that case, whether it's an officer or something who feels they have been victimized. You have to make some really quick decisions right there in court. In a preliminary hearing, you have to make some quick decisions on whether it should go on up to criminal court, or send the evidence to a grand jury and let average citizens decide whether I as a prosecutor, should pursue it."

"One of the safeguards of our justice system, is that defense attorney. Most prosecutors WANT a competant and excellent defense attorney on the other side. You may not hear that said in any other forum, but I will tell you right now, we usually WANT the defendant to be represented by the best defense attorney they can find. The reason for that is, it holds our feet to the fire as prosecutors. THey are better at showing us our weaknesses very early on in a case. More importantly, for us, if the defense attorney doesn't do his or her job, many times, we have to try that case all over again, and that's the last thing we want to do. Once the case is bound over, you may see a prosecutor who looks and sounds very knowledgeable about a case, when in reality, they may know very little about it. That's why sometimes you'll see charges in a case, and when it's indicted, you'll see somewhat different charges.. that prosecutor has had time to study those questions, reflect on them, and see exactly what is being alleged."

"You'll hear a lot about probable cause. My mentors taught me early on, it's more than just probable cause. At some point, to prove that person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that's going to be your challenge and if you can't do it and you see that up front there's no need of going any further with a certain case, then you have to let it go."

"I have people that come to me and want me to charge folk.. in fact, I have people who fuss at me every day for 20 years.. 'you ought to just charge 'em. Just charge 'em. At least, they'll have to get a defense attorney, and at least they'll have to go through a jury trial.. let 'em prove it. Even if you can't prove your case, just put them through it.' That is a great abuse of power."

"Fairness is an issue nobody agrees on. The Knoxville News-Sentinel interviewed me once and asked me 'what is the most difficult part of your job?' I said 'fairness,' because everybody thinks they know what 'fair' is. Until you get stuck in the position of trying to make decisions about being fair, you'll find that what is fair to one person, is never fair to another person. You can argue all day long 'round the clock, and you'll never be able to convince everybody what is fair and what is not."

"About racial profiling.. yes, it is there. And it even happened to me. A few weeks ago, I was stopped.. worn out.. didn't look like a preacher or a lawyer, much less an assistant D.A. Just preached a revival, and I sweat profusely.. that time, I had just pulled my shirt over what I was wearing. I was driving home on the last night of Revival, and I'm in a hurry to get home. And I'm stopped--I won't tell you where I was stopped, nor who stopped me, but I will say it's close to where you are right now (downtown Johnson City), and I wasn't going to have much argument about the reason I was stopped, because the last night of Revival, I'm tired and want to get home. But then.. I got the 'light treatment.' The lights were shined in my car, and I got scared to move. I made sure I didn't make what they call 'furtive' movements, didn't want anybody to misunderstand where my hands were going, so I left one hand on the top of the steering wheel and the other on the side.. I didn't move a muscle. I got the full 'light treatment.' We talked, but for about three to four minutes and when you're scared, your time gets messed up. I was scared to death, wondering if something more was going to happen, than what you are prepared for."

"In court, I'm pretty well liked by all the officers, but sometimes if I have to throw out charges, they'll say something like 'well aren't you going to let them give you a statement or something?' 'Don't you want us to get to the truth, the facts?' I say, 'nope.. they're not going to give a statement.' I tell them, 'you need to prove your case. You go out and study the motives, you study the codes, you make the decision on whether I should charge, then come to me with those fact. Prove your case.'"

"Yes, I belong to what some people call, the most powerful office in the state. But I am also reminded that you cannot abuse your discretion. Because if you abuse it in one case, you may find yourself in a case involving someone you know, in that other chair. And I want those close to me and even myself, to be treated the same."

"My mentor, the one who first taught me how to prosecute, once told me that you do not have to be mean to a defendant. I have always remembered that, and I have been jumped on by other prosecutors because I have called a defendant a 'gentleman' or a 'lady.' I thought the jury gave me credit that just because you're prosecuting someone and in some cases, it's a really bad situation, that I showed them respect. They made a mistake and even though they won't admit it, I have to show that the mistake was made. If I didn't have the proof, I shouldn't be prosecuting the case."


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.