BEING WAKE SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR
***UPDATED***WILMINGTON TEN ADVOCATES
MAKE FINAL ARGUMENT
By Cash Michaels
After seven months of advocacy, supporters for pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten are now making their closing arguments for justice, in hopes that the forty-year ordeal of being falsely convicted of crimes the Ten did not commit, will now come to an end.
Meanwhile, in an historic gesture, The StarNews of Wilmington has joined The Wilmington Journal, The New York Times, The Raleigh News and Observer, and African-American newspapers across the nation, in calling on Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.
"Before Gov. Bev Perdue leaves office," Thursday's StarNews editorial states, "she has the opportunity to close the book on one of the ugliest chapters in recent Wilmington history: the convictions of nine black men and a white woman whose trial trampled justice and their constitutional rights."
Led by Dr. Benjamin Chavis, leader of the Wilmington Ten, members of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, along with partners from the NC NAACP, Change.org, and a delegation of supporters from Wilmington, returned to the state Capital Thursday to urge Gov. Beverly Perdue to look at the entire case, the lack of evidence against the Ten, and the overwhelming evidence that the man who prosecuted them forty years ago, Jay Stroud, racially gerrymandered the jury seeking “KKK and Uncle Tom-types.”
When Stroud didn’t get the jury he wanted, the stunning evidence uncovered by the Pardon Project shows, he forced a mistrial.
"After more than 40 years, it becomes harder to sort through some of the details to find the truth," the StarNews editorial today states. "But what is crystal clear is that justice was not done."
The Winston-Salem Chronicle, one of many black newspaper members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association that have religiously carried the Wilmington Ten stories - wrote, “…[the] racially-charged convictions more than four decades ago remain a black-eye for the state.”
Major mainstream newspapers, that finally picked up on the pardon effort months after NNPA papers, agree.
“The Wilmington Ten said they were nonviolent activists. It has never been legitimately proven otherwise,” stated the News & Observer last week in a powerful editorial titled, “Pardon the Wilmington Ten.”
“They remain innocent until proven guilty, but for most of their lives they’ve been assumed guilty until they could prove themselves innocent, an impossibility in this case.”
The N&O ended its editorial by stating, “..,the governor can do more than pardon. She can heal. We hope she will.”
In its editorial last Sunday, the venerable New York Times also called on Gov. Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Ten, saying that, "by providing it, she can finally bring a close to one of the more shameful episodes in North Carolina history."
Since the pardons of innocence campaign – started by the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Wilmington Journal in 2011 – went national last May, the response has been overwhelming.
Change.org, the social media advocacy group that amassed over 2 million petition signatures in the Trayvon Martin case earlier this year, launched a national campaign for the Wilmington Ten pardons, generating at press time over 130,000 petition signatures. That’s in addition to the previous 14,200 petition signatures collected by the NAACP and The Wilmington Journal from across North Carolina and the nation, along with an untold number of letters from public officials and citizens, all asking Gov. Perdue to pardon the Ten.
Several United States Congressmen, celebrities like music mogul Russell Simmons, university law professors and the NAACP – whose Board of Directors last May unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Wilmington Ten pardons effort – have come onboard.
Hundreds of followers of the Change.org petition, and on the Pardon Project’s Facebook page, have voiced their support as well, urging Gov. Perdue to grant pardons to the Wilmington Ten now.
“It is about time that this wrong is righted,” posted Linda F. Chapman of Wilmington.
“I am appalled that an official pardon has never been given,” agreed Madeline Chang of New York. “Even 40 years late, I am hopeful that the governor will do what is right.”
But not everyone agrees that the Ten deserve to be cleared.
Two weeks ago, a group which calls itself, “Citizens for Justice,” took out a quarter-page ad in the local Wilmington StarNews, asking “Gov. Purdue” not to grant pardons to the Wilmington Ten, essentially because, they say, it has never been proven that the nine black males and one white female civil rights activists, led by Rev. Chavis, didn’t conspire to firebomb a white-owned grocery store in February 1971, and then fire weapons on fire and police personnel from a church steeple.
Retired white Wilmington police officers, and even former prosecutor Jay Stroud, have told the local Wilmington media that the Ten are guilty, and deserved the 282-year prison sentences they received in 1972.
And there are reports of former state Justice Dept. officials who are lobbying Gov. Perdue not to give in to the growing national pressure to grant pardons, despite powerful evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, some of which was known over three decades ago.
In 1977, three prosecution witnesses, who testified against the Ten, recanted their testimonies in court. The CBS News program, “60 Minutes” then exposed much of the evidence against the Wilmington Ten as “fabricated” by prosecutors.
In 1980, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions based upon that prosecutor and the trial judge allowed the introduction of perjured testimony and withheld critical evidence which defense attorneys were entitled to receive.
The Winston Salem Chronicle wrote, “The frame-up was exposed, but the State of North Carolina has never declared the Ten innocent, retried them, nor have the fabricated charges been dismissed against them. Though freed and cleared, they’ve had to live out their lives under an unjust cloud.”
Gov. Perdue is expected to make a decision on pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten between now, and when she leaves office officially on January 5th.
PARDON SOUGHT FOR JAMES JOHNSON
By Cash Michaels
An “appropriate pardon” is being sought for James A. Johnson, a young Wilson County African-American man who, in 2004, told police about the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl by a friend of his, but was then arrested, charged and jailed over three years for the crime.
In Feb. 2009, the NCNAACP called the James Johnson case, “an enduring example of prosecutorial misconduct.”
In his Dec. 14, 2012 petition requesting a pardon from Gov. Beverly Perdue, attorney and NCCU law Professor Irving Joyner wrote, “This petition is supported by facts and circumstance surrounding Johnson’s case which shows that he voluntarily provided crucial information to the Wilson Police Department that directly resulted in the arrest and conviction of Kenneth Meeks, a Wilson teenager, who was solely responsible for the kidnapping and murder of sixteen year old Brittany Willis.”
Atty. Joyner’s petition states, “The undisputed evidence shows that James Johnson was unknowingly involved in this case when Kenneth Meeks, a friend from the Wilson community, came to Johnson’s home, told him about the killing of Willis and took him to the murder site. When he observed Willis’ body, Johnson demanded that Meeks take him back home. After he returned to his home, Johnson confided in another friend, Julian Deans, about what Meeks had told him and what he had witnessed at the murder site. On the next day, Johnson discussed the matter with his father, Arthur Johnson, and Deans’ mother who then accompanied the two to the Wilson Police Department in order to report Meeks’ involvement in Willis’ death.”
“Up until this point in their investigation, Wilson Police officers had no leads or other information regarding the identity or circumstances surrounding the killing of Brittany Willis,” Joyner continued.
“At the time, Johnson was not under suspicion nor had he been contacted by anyone regarding the information which he possessed, but decided on his own that he was going to do the right thing and report to the police that his friend was responsible for the death of this young woman. But for the information that Johnson provided, it is highly probable that Meeks’ involvement would not have been discovered and this killing would have been unsolved. It is also important to note that even though a reward had been posted for information leading to the apprehension of Willis’ killer, Johnson never sought to obtain that benefit,” Joyner writes.
“Johnson’s actions in this matter ordinarily would have been applauded throughout the community, but became a personal tragedy when Meeks, in an attempt to get even with Johnson for exposing his involvement, falsely told officers that Johnson had also been involved in this killing. Despite the fact that Meeks subsequently confessed that he was solely responsible for Willis’ death and that Johnson was not involved, Johnson was charged with kidnapping and murder and incarcerated in jail for over thirty-nine months.”
Since these judicial events occurred,” attorney Joyner continued, “Johnson has suffered many set-backs in his efforts to resume and pursue a normal life. The original murder and kidnapping charges resulted in the loss of a soccer scholarship to a local college and his incarceration in jail for thirty-nine months before those charges were dismissed against him. These unsupported charges were needlessly pursued in the absence of any forensic evidence which connected him to the crimes and a recantation by Kenneth Meeks who admitted in open court that he was the lone participant in those crimes.”
“As a result of these charges, Johnson has been unable to maintain employment when potential employers learn that he had previously been prosecuted for these offenses. Even though, Johnson has now moved from North Carolina in an attempt to avoid the negativity resulting from the notoriety surrounding these offenses, he has not been able to escape its negative impacts and the many collateral consequences of having being wrongfully prosecuted for kidnapping and murder.”
Joyner concluded, “The failure of the State of North Carolina to acknowledge, remedy and remove the effects and consequences of these wrongful prosecutions continues to stain an image of fairness that North Carolina has sought to create and maintain. Only the granting of an appropriate pardon can remove this deeply engrained tarnish which continues to hang over this State.”
Gov. Perdue is expected to decide on pardons before she leaves office on Jan . 5th.
BEING WAKE SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR
IS CHALLENGE SUTTON WANTS
By Cash Michaels
One would think that the last role anyone would want is to lead a public school board that is notorious for its infighting and dramatic political shifts.
But Keith Sutton, now the new chairman of the Wake County Board of Education, succeeding Kevin Hill, says he’s up-to-the-task.
“I think I have the ability, I think I have the experience, I think I have temperament to not only help lead this board and try to bring us together, but to also move us past some of the challenging issues we have in front of us,” Sutton told The Carolinian newspaper shortly after being chosen by his fellow Democratic board members two weeks ago.
“With my political experience, working on various campaigns, working at the General Assembly doing lobbying work, I think I have the ability to negotiate with county leaders, city leaders and others, especially when it comes to the school bond and reassignment pieces.”
Sutton has one year to prove that all of his previous experience measures up to being able to positively moving Wake County Public Schools forward, especially now that the school has just adopted a new addressed-based student assignment plan, and is in the market for a new superintendent after the dramatic firing of Wake Supt. Tony Tata several months ago.
His top agenda items are, hiring a new system leader; filling the board’s District 1 seat now that Chris Malone has resigned to join the state House; negotiating with the new Wake County Commission Board Chair Joe Bryan on putting a school construction bond on the ballot this fall; navigating a tough budget year amid continued growth in student population, and managing the new address-based student assignment plan.
Supt. Tata’s previous school choice plan, which was adopted in Oct. 2011 by the previous Republican-dominated Wake School Board, proved to put too much “stress” on the school system, Sutton maintains, in terms of planning and operational costs.
“Because of our size, it really hinders our ability to plan for the system when you don’t have control of where students are assigned going to school,” Sutton said.
Plus, growth projections showed that ultimately, choice was going to create more expensive high poverty schools, something Sutton and the Democratic majority were dead set against.
With addressed-based student assignment, Sutton says parents now know where their children are supposed to attend classes. He says more layers have to be added to bring about more flexibility and diversity, but he has confidence that the plan will better suit the needs of the 153,000-pupil school system, which is growing.
On student diversity, Chairman Sutton assures that the board will not be going back to addressing it purely through student assignment, but it will devise, perhaps an academic mechanism to better bring it about.
On hiring a new schools superintendent, Sutton says he’s seeking someone who certainly has a stronger educational background than Supt. Tata – a retired US Army general who had less than five years experience when he was hired in 2010.
And, again unlike Tata, Sutton wants the new system leader to be as apolitical as possible so that he or she can comfortably work with both Democrats and Republicans on the school board, and come to a consensus in carrying out school policy.
Sutton believes the next superintendent has to have a great degree of management experience in order to “run a large enterprise like Wake County schools.”
Tata, reportedly, was used to barking orders at staff and principals, something he was comfortable doing from his old Army days.
But running a large school system calls for great collaboration in order to have teachers, principals and students all working together for the common goal of academic achievement, experts say. Sutton says he wants Wake County schools to return to that.
“With a $1.2 billion budget; 18,000 employees, 169 schools and 153,000 students, we’re quite a large system, so [the new superintendent] will need to have some experience in running organizations and institutions of that size,” Sutton says.
And, of course, there is no question that the most significant area that needs the most work is healing the deep political and personal divisions that remain among the Wake school board members.
It has been so ever since the Republicans took over the majority in 2009, dumping the system successful student diversity plan, and attempting to replace it with a racially-identifiable neighborhood schools plan that never got off the ground.
When the Democrats dramatically took back a 5-4 majority in 2011 by winning in a five-seat sweep, and defeating GOP Chair Ron Margiotta, the board Republicans vowed to be as disruptive, and as bitter as possible.
Amid screaming matches and accusations of assault, Chairman Sutton knows that the waters will have to be calmed if WCPSS is to move forward and be successful again.
“We have to get back to basics,” Sutton told The Carolinian. “Basic courtesy, basic respect for each other as board members. We’ve not seen that here lately, and I think we’ve got to get back to that.”
As leader of the board, Sutton says he has to demonstrate and model the behavior that he wants his fellow board members to exhibit.
“I set the tone at every meeting, and at every work session,” he says.
Chairman Sutton has been serving on the Wake School Board, representing District 4 and Southeast Raleigh, since 2009, succeeding Rosa Gill. His chairman ship ends a year from now, and he says he hopes he has accomplished enough to be reelected to a second term.
TRIANGLE NEWS BRIEFS
US JUSTICE DEPT. SUES ALAMANCE SHERIFF, ALLEGES BIAS AGAINST LATINOS
As it has threatened to do, the US Justice Dept last week filed a civil rights lawsuit against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, alleging that he has intentionally discriminated against Latinos. The suit alleges that Sheriff Johnson’s department “routinely” targeted Hispanic drivers for traffic stops, solely based on their ethnicity. The suit is being pursued, the Justice Dept. says, because Johnson refused to address the issues.
GROUP WANTS TEACHERS ARMED
Grassroots NC, a pro-gun conservative group, says it will push for a law in the NC General Assembly next session that arms teachers in the classroom. The proposal is the group’s answer to the shooting massacre two weeks ago in Newtown, Conn., where 28 people were killed in an elementary school. 20 of them were children. Grassroots NC says gun violence is highest where guns are not allowed. But several experts dispute that finding.
CAREGIVER CAUGHT TRYING TO SCAM MARRIAGE ON PATIENT
Authorities last week stopped a female caregiver who allegedly kidnapped an 83-year-old male patient with dementia from a rehab center in Pinehurst, and was taking him to the Register of Deeds Office in Scotland County so that the two could be married. Pinehurst police arrested Carol Ann O’Cause, 68, was charged with one count of false imprisonment. The elderly patient is in the custody of the Moore County Dept. of Social Services.
STATE NEWS BRIEFS
MCCRORY CHOOSES TWO ARCH-CONSERVATIVES TO SERVE
[RALEIGH] The new Republican Governor-elect may be considered a moderate by some, but some of the people he’s appointing to serve in his new incoming administration are anything but. Conservative businessman Art Pope, who funded the 2010 GOP takeover of the NC House, is now McCrory’s deputy budget director. And attorney Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor and Raleigh city councilor who supports right-wing causes, was appointed as the Gov.-elect’s new secretary of public safety. Thomas Stith, a Durham attorney, will serve as McCrory’s chief of staff.
NC STILL HAS NATION’S 10TH LARGEST POPULATION
[CHARLOTTE] Despite a tough economy, at least 100,000 people moved to North Carolina in the year ending last July, helping to the Tar Heel state to retain being the tenth largest in the nation, according to the US Census. An estimated 9,752,073 residents called North Carolina home as of July 1. Georgia is ninth, and New Jersey is 11th. North Dakota has the highest rate of population growth, thanks to the oil boom there.
MARTIN REPORT SHOWS GRADE CHANGES IN UNC BLACK STUDIES DEPT.
[CHAPEL HILL] There was no apparent connection to the UNC athletics program, but an internal probe by former Gov. Jim Martin into unauthorized grade changes for athletes in the UNC African and Afro-American Studies revealed that it had been going on since 1997. According to Martin, Dept. Chair Julius Nyang'Oro and staffer Deborah Crowder were allegedly responsible for the practice. Martin, who presented his 74-page report to the UNC Board of Governors Thursday, said signatures were forged and grades were changed. He said he could not confirm that money changed hands for the alleged scheme.
CASH IN THE APPLE
By Cash Michaels
LAST COLUMN OF THE YEAR – Well what an exciting year 2012 has been. Just 12 months ago, none of us were all that certain that Pres. Obama could win a re-election, but he did. We didn’t think unemployment could get below 8 percent before the presidential election, but it did.
And we didn’t think Republicans could make plum fools of themselves – like being secretly taped talking about not caring about “the 47 percent” of us who are struggling, or getting old movie stars to talk to chairs in stage at their deadly boring political convention – but they did.
Some of us didn’t think that black voter turnout was going to be anywhere near what it was in 2008, but it was.
Hey, there were a lot of folks who didn’t believe that Lebron James and the Miami Heat would win the NBA Championship, but they did.
It was hard to believe that after getting fired from MSNBC, Keith Olbermann would turn around and get fired at Current TV after egotripping, but he was.
No one would have believed that a film about black maids in the 1960’s South would be a huge hit, make tons of money, and win at least one Academy Award, but it did.
Hey, no one would ever believe that Coco would be caught dead smoochin’ with another rapper and take pictures of it too, but she did.
Just ask mad-as-hubby Ice-T (ha-ha).
And, of course, even now, none of us can still believe that a madman went to a school with a semi-automatic weapon, and fired it, killing 27 people, 20 of whom were young first-graders.
None of us, and we pray for their souls.
Yes, it has been a pretty unbelievable, unpredictable year, and 2013 promises to be more of the same, starting with the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
The question is, whether we believe what we see and hear or not, what are we going to do about any of it?
Let me recommend that 2013 be a year of definite action. There was plenty of action in 2012, no question, but there was also lots of talk.
Let’s cut down on the talking, and ramp up the positive action. Let’s do what we promised ourselves, and work hard, starting right now, to take our nation back completely in 2014. It’s time our president had a Congress he can work with again. And it’s time that we better protect our children from the ravages of gun violence and inappropriate entertainment.
Let’s work even harder to make this a better nation, and a better world for all of GOD’s children.
This way, when people ask, “Do you believe what we all did together?,” we can all reply, “Yeah, we did that.”
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
GOD WAS GOOD – Personally, as in any year, I had my struggles in 2012. I got older, fatter…and let’s be honest…some of my favorite parts are working the way they once did (like my EYES, silly. Get your mind out of the gutter)!
And yet, in 2012, GOD kept my family safe, helped my youngest daughter continue to grow into the fine, talented human being that she is, and gave me tremendous opportunities to do what I do best in journalism, video production, and advocacy.
I got a chance to work with really dynamic leadership throughout the year, and learn from them. I saw commitment in front of me that I could nothing but respect, and pray for. I saw people of all stripes come together for common purposes and goals.
And, I saw GOD’s hand in all of the good work that has been done before me.
So 2012 was an extraordinary year, and I thank for allowing to have a family that I love, a job that I cherish, and the opportunity to serve the community in whatever fashion He would have me too.
And by the way, this “getting older, but wiser” stuff? If only I knew now, when I was half this age…WOW!
WILMINGTON TEN UPDATE – In just days, if it hasn’t happened by the time you read this, we are expecting Gov. Beverly Perdue to decide whether to grant pardon of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.
The most likely scenario is Gov. Perdue will wait until she is about to leave office before having her office make the announcement. That is not expected to happen until between Dec. 31st and Jan. 4th
In the meantime, The Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project continue to make the case to the public that the Wilmington Ten are indeed innocent of the false charges they were falsely convicted of 40 years.
There is no question in our minds what Gov. Perdue must do to make justice a reality.
It will be both dramatic, and historic. But it’s all to make the point that, after forty long years, justice must be done in the case of the Wilmington Ten.
We thank you for your support thus far. The work is not over, however. As long as there is still time for Gov. Perdue to make a decision, the Pardon Project and our supporters will continue to build support.
We are also asking, for those individuals, churches or institutions who wish to beyond just signing the petition, to send letters to Gov. Perdue asking her to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten ASAP.
Here is that address:
Hon. Beverly Eaves Perdue
Governor of North Carolina
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
If you want more information about the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, you can go to www.wilmingtonjournal.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheWilmingtonTenPardonOfInnocenceProject.
Please, as we enter this holy season of Christmas, let us deliver peace and justice to those who have been forty years denied.
Thank you, and Happy New Year!
Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ''Make It Happen'' on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at www.myWAUG.com. And read more about my thoughts and opinions exclusively at my new blog, ‘The Cash Roc” (http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2011/01/cash-roc-begins.html). I promise it will be interesting.
Cash in the Apple - honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Carolinian in your life. Bye, bye.