Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety Hardcover

The Damascus Accident
They drop a wrench,

Or some such fluke,

And can set off

A well-armed nuke.

~Day Williams

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety 

Hardcover

Central Park Five: Bill Kunstler’s Last Case

Defending Yousef Salaam

Central Park Five: Bill Kunstler’s Last Case

by BRUCE JACKSON
. . .

The justice system, as any lawyer knows, isn’t about guilt or innocence; it’s about winning and losing. The cops hold a kid all night, as in this case, refusing to let him see the family waiting downstairs and whom he is asking to see, or a lawyer, or anybody. They promise that if you just sign here you won’t do any time, you’ll go home with your grandmother. You’re fourteen, you’re scared, you’re exhausted, you trust them, so you sign. The cop who got you to do that suffers no penalty when years later it turns out, as in this case, the kid who had been psychologically tortured all night was, as he insisted until he was worn down, innocent.

That’s why Bill said he was engaged in this case. He told me that. I remember close friends saying, “Rape trumps politics. You shouldn’t be defending this guy.” And Bill saying, “You don’t know that he’s guilty. They didn’t let him talk to anybody. A fourteen-year old kid. Kids have rights too.”

Bill wasn’t simply defending an accused rapist; he was defending the rights of all of us to be treated fairly by a system with almost infinite power. The only thing that protects us from that infinite power are the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.  When the police, the secret agents, feel free to ignore the protections of those Amendments, we are all at risk, not just poor kids of color. All of us. That’s what Bill Kunstler was really about.

The prosecutor, like the cop who has nabbed what he or she believes is a villain , who learns there is exculpatory evidence, who fights to hide or disregard such evidence and fights instead to preserve the honor of the office, suffers no penalty for that huge mistaken effort. The prosecutor has protected the office and is rewarded for that.

Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire, who took office in 2002, the same year the exculpatory evidence was known to the authorities, fought against justice for Central Park Five the entire time he was in office. He incurs no penalty for his disregard for justice either. To whom does he answer? Surely not the victims. Not to the woman savaged in Central Park, whose real violator was ignored by the system, or the five kids whose lives were damaged by the system’s disregard for them as human beings.

Everyone who is in prison says, “I’m doing time.” Talk to someone who has been in prison and ask, “Where were you?” and they say, “I’ve been doing time.” What should be a noun is answered with a verb. There is no way money can compensate for that linguistic shift. You can replace a Honda or a picnic table or a backpack; you cannot replace a year or a decade of someone’s life.

That’s what Bill Kunstler was fighting for, from the first time someone got him to go South and defend bus riders in a place whitefolks thought busses had two zones. He went there, and he never came back.

Bill believed in the justice system. That always amazed, astonished and inspired me. Once, when we were loafing in Oaxaca, I asked him how he felt going up against those juries in the deep South. He said that as long as he could get real evidence in front of a jury, he pretty much believed they’d do the right thing. If he ever stopped believing that, he said, he’d give up law and do something else. I guess he never stopped believing that, because he kept doing law right up to the end.

The hard part was getting the evidence out where people could see it. In the case of the Central Park Five, New York City fought for a long time to keep that from happening. Now, unless someone higher up in government kills this settlement, the people in city government who waged that fight have lost. There is a settlement; money will change hands. But those five kids who are men now lost years of their lives, and money will never buy that back. There are no winners in this sorry story.

And Bill, who died in 1995, turns out to have been right all along.

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Cultur

Strongest Antiwar Statement Yet from a Congressional Candidate

Strongest Antiwar Statement Yet from a Congressional Candidate

In this local TV news interview (video), we see Virginia Fifth District Democratic nominee for Congress Lawrence Gaughan say, “We need to get back to the Constitution on the issue of war, and I will never authorize the executive to use force when there is no direct or imminent threat to our national security here on our soil.”