4/25/2004 Newsletters


  • Funny Business with Civil Rights Director Candidates
  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Justice: The Movie
  • Study on False Convictions

As we notified you in the last newsletter, there are two "meet the candidate" community meetings scheduled early this week to give the community a chance to have input into who will be the next Civil Rights Director. We got word that the mayor's office and the search firm that selected the candidates has been telling the candidates not to attend these meetings.

Pauline Thomas, who put these meetings together, send the following letter to the mayor and search firm:

Hon. Mayor R.T. Rybak

KP Recruiting
Miquel McMoore, President
Ross Plaetzer, Executive Recruiter

We just learned today that your office and your consultants for the recruitment of the Civil Rights Director have directed the Director finalists to cancel their attendance at two "meet the community" meetings scheduled for next week.

We want an immediate response from your offices citing the legal authority by which you issue this directive.

The names of the finalist have been made public pursuant to Minnesota state statue. We assume then that the public has a right to hear from the finalists and their community has a right to meet them. If this is not the case please respond to us citing the appropriate legal authority. Otherwise we will assume that our position is proper and we will proceed.

As you know, the City Council HHS committee is holding a public hearing on May 3, 2004 regarding selection of the candidate for the Director’s position. How is the public supposed to get information about the candidates and their position on civil rights so that we can make an informed presentation to Council if we ware denied access to the candidates?

We are extremely concerned about this apparent clamp on the civil rights of the community to have just minimal input to the process. The Civil Rights Director is hired to serve the community. We have a right to hear from these candidates before one of them is selected. We look forward to your responses.

Pauline Thomas
Community Collaborative
We understand that at least some of the candidates will be present at our community meetings. That would be wise since we'll still ask the community to share what they know about the candidates who are not there and that will be the basis for our decision-making. It would be a lot better for the candidates to tell their own stories.

Why is our mayor trying to keep us from hearing from these candidates? In light of the "funny business" being pulled by RT Rybak and the search firm, these meetings take on more significance. You'll want to make it to one of these meetings:

Monday, April 26, 2004
Sabathani Community Center
310 East 38th Street
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Minneapolis Urban League North
2100 Plymouth Avenue
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

We've got two events coming up very soon that we need help with, and one other volunteer opportunity:

1) Rummage sale fundraiser: We'll be participating in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood garage sale on Saturday, May 1st. We'll set up in the backyard of 455 Upton Avenue South. We need help with tagging on Wednesday evening and setting up on Friday evening. We also need folks to help work the sale, since we'll also be holding our regular meeting that Saturday. If you can help or have any good stuff you want to donate toward the sale, please call our hotline at 612-874-7867. All proceeds from the sale will benefit CUAPB and our work.

2) Mayday parade, Sunday, May 2nd: We'll be marching in this year's Mayday parade and getting out thousands of flyers. We need plenty of folks to carry the banner, hold signs and pass out flyers. This is a very important opportunity to reach a lot of folks. We'll meet up at Cedar Field at 18th Avenue South and 25th Street at 11:30 a.m. Look for our banner. If you can help, call our hotline at 612-874-7867 or just come by. From years past, we know you'll have a great time supporting a great cause.

3) Techie needed: We need the advice of a computer genius who can help us upgrade and network our computers. Someone who is very familiar with Microsoft applications and has a decent hardware background would be ideal. If you can help us get our technology act together in the service of the community, please call our hotline at 612-874-7867.

A great new movie, Justice, that was made right here in the Twin Cities is having its world premier soon. Some of us saw it during production and it knocked us out!

This great film, starring Roger Guenvuer Smith (All About the Benjamins, Get on the Bus, Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X), Monica Calhoun (Baghdad Café, The Best Man, The Players Club), and Anna Maria Horsford (Minority Report, Set it Off, TV show "Amen"), is about a movement started by a public defender who gets tired of seeing people of color and poor folks forced to take deals and plead guilty just to keep the court system moving and cover for brutal cops. Written and produced by local civil rights attorneys John Shulman, Jeanne-Marie Almonor and Jim Hilbert, this cinema-quality film accurately depicts what we see everyday down at the Hennepin County Government Center and what happens in courthouses around the country. Except this lawyer starts his own "no compromise" firm and forces the court system to take every case to trial.

Soon, average folks get excited about this lawyer's work and a people's movement develops. While the lawyers are clogging up the courts, the people start clogging up the streets. The most dramatic part of the movie comes when dirty cops try COINTELPRO-style tactics to bring down the movement. When justice prevails with the surprise ending, you walk away from this movie feeling uplifted, hopeful and ready to renew your commitment to the struggle.

You'll want to attend one of the showings of this wonderful film: May 12th through May 20th (nightly showings with weekend matinees) Riverview Theater, 38th St & 42nd Ave S in Minneapolis. For tickets and the complete screening schedule call 612-824-7184 or go to www.jujitsufilms.com

We'll be tabling at showings of this film and will be announcing a CUAPB movie night soon.

New York Times
April 19, 2004

A comprehensive study of 328 criminal cases over the last 15 years in which the convicted person was exonerated suggests that there are thousands of innocent people in prison today.

Almost all the exonerations were in murder and rape cases, and that implies, according to the study, that many innocent people have been convicted of less serious crimes. But the study says they benefited neither from the intense scrutiny that murder cases tend to receive nor from the DNA evidence that can categorically establish the innocence of people convicted of rape.

Prosecutors, however, have questioned some of the methodology used in the study, which was prepared at the University of Michigan and supervised by a law professor there, Samuel R. Gross. They say that the number of exonerations is quite small when compared with the number of convictions during the 15-year period. About 2 million people are in American prisons and jails.

The study identified 199 murder exonerations, 73 of them in capital cases. It also found 120 rape exonerations. Only nine cases involved other crimes. In more than half of the cases, the defendants had been in prison for more than 10 years.

The study's authors said they picked 1989 as a starting point because that was the year of the first DNA exoneration. Of the 328 exonerations they found in the intervening years, 145 involved DNA evidence.

In 88 percent of the rape cases in the study, DNA evidence helped free the inmate. But biological evidence is far less likely to be available or provide definitive proof in other kinds of cases. Only 20 percent of the murder exonerations involved DNA evidence, and almost all of those were rape-murders.

The study, which will be presented Friday at a conference of defense lawyers in Austin, Tex., also found that very different factors contributed to wrongful convictions in rape and murder cases.

Some 90 percent of false convictions in the rape cases involved misidentification by witnesses, very often across races. In particular, the study said black men made up a disproportionate number of exonerated rape defendants.

The racial mix of those exonerated, in general, mirrored that of the prison population, and the mix of those exonerated of murder mirrored the mix of those convicted of murder. But while 29 percent of those in prison for rape are black, 65 percent of those exonerated of the crime are.

Interracial rapes are, moreover, uncommon. Rapes of white women by black men, for instance, represent less than 10 percent of all rapes, according to the Justice Department. But in half of the rape exonerations where racial data was available, black men were falsely convicted of raping white women.

"The most obvious explanation for this racial disparity is probably also the most powerful," the study says. "White Americans are much more likely to mistake one black person for another than to do the same for members of their own race."

On the other hand, the study found that the leading causes of wrongful convictions for murder were false confessions and perjury by co- defendants, informants, police officers or forensic scientists.

A separate study considering 125 cases involving false confessions was published in the North Carolina Law Review last month and found that such confessions were most common among groups vulnerable to suggestion and intimidation.

"There are three groups of people most likely to confess," said Steven A. Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern, who conducted the study with Richard A. Leo, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine. "They are the mentally retarded, the mentally ill and juveniles."

Professor Drizin, too, said that false confessions were most common in murder cases.

"Those are the cases where there is the greatest pressure to obtain confessions," he said, "and confessions are often the only way to solve those crimes."

Professor Drizin said that videotaping of police interrogations would cut down on false confessions.

The authors of the Michigan study offered dueling rationales for the murder exonerations, and both reasons, they said, were disturbing.

There may be more murder exonerations, they said, because the cases attract more attention, especially when a death sentence is imposed. Death row inmates represent a quarter of 1 percent of the prison population but 22 percent of the exonerated.

That suggests that innocent people are often convicted in run-of-the-mill cases. Indeed, the study says, "if we reviewed prison sentences with the same level of care that we devote to death sentences, there would have been over 28,500 non-death-row exonerations in the past 15 years rather than the 255 that have in fact occurred."

The study offered a competing theory, as well. Mistakes, it said, may be more likely in murder cases and far more likely in capital cases.

"The truth," the study concludes, "is clearly a combination of these two appalling possibilities."

Critics of the Michigan study questioned its methodology, saying it overstated the number of authentically innocent people. The study calls every nullification of a conviction by a governor, court or prosecutor declaring a person not guilty of a crime an exoneration.

In Astoria, Ore., Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, said that many of the people exonerated under the study's definition may nonetheless have committed the crimes in question, though the evidence may have become too weak to prove that beyond a reasonably doubt.

"The real number of people on death row exonerated in the sense of being actually innocent in the modern era of the death penalty is about 25 to 30," Mr. Marquis said. The Michigan study put the number at 73.

He added that even the error rate suggested by the study was tolerable given the American prison population.

"We all agree that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted," Mr. Marquis said. "Is it better for 100,000 guilty men to walk free rather than have one innocent man convicted? The cost-benefit policy answer is no."

At the University of Michigan, Professor Gross said that was the wrong calculus. "No rate of preventable errors that destroy people's lives and destroy the lives of those close to them is acceptable," he said.

Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said Mr. Marquis's analysis ignored another point.

"Every time an innocent person is convicted," Mr. Scheck said, "it means there are more guilty people out there who are still committing crimes."

Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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