August 20, 2013
Don’t Stop Believing In Justice? The Case of Rodney K. Stanberry
I recently had a conversation with someone I knew while we were in a store. We briefly got caught up on life. She informed me that while she had long wanted to go to law school, that she is no longer sure that that is the direction she wants to go. She said the Trayvon Martin shooting and the George Zimmerman trial had soured her on the system of justice. Normally, I would have jumped in and said that you can’t allow one case to deter you from believing in the system and then continued with my spiel that the system responds to demands, as such, the worst you can do is to give up. But I didn’t say those things this time. Instead, I said aloud what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. “What Happens if I stopped believing in our system of justice?” Understand, I am not naïve about how justice is often administered and about how politics often trump common sense and the pursuit of justice. Nevertheless, I so believe in the system, so much so that it sometimes hurts: it breaks my heart.
When I said “What Happens if I stopped believing in our system of justice,” tears formed in my eyes. It’s like telling a child that there is no Santa Claus or tooth fairy, not to equate justice with the aforementioned characters. I believe that activism can make a difference. But after more than 16 years of working on my cousin’s, Rodney K. Stanberry, case, and facing the realization that on Wednesday, August 28th that he may be denied parole, the question has crept into my mind. You see, Rodney is an innocent man who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. His being granted parole is not a given, in part, because he is an innocent man (see and sign this petition). This reality is very difficult to accept. It may be very difficult to hang on to the belief that action and agitation in the pursuit of justice can actually do that, produce justice, if he is not granted parole. Again, I’m not naïve, I dealt with the agony of defeat in this blog (“The Pursuit of Justice and the Agony of Defeat“)… One of my friends who studied Ghandi told me about a book about Ghandi entitled Ghandi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith Brown. I liked that title because it reflects how I view and tackle my role as an advocate for my cousin and it reflects my beliefs that the system reacts when there are demands placed on it. We have to believe this, I say, otherwise, what purpose is there in attempting to battle against any inequality or injustice perpetuated by the system. After hearing the term “prisoner of hope” years ago, I wrote it on my bulletin board to see each day, and I began saying that I am a prisoner of hope, through the good, the bad and the ugly, I can’t help but to hope the system would correct a wrong.
Injustice Anywhere, is a Threat to Justice Everywhere
As mentioned, on August 28th, Rodney K. Stanberry will have his third parole hearing. As I mention in the introduction to this petition, he has had everything parole boards look for, a family plan, employment, family support, a good prison record, no criminal history prior to being convicted, programs completed while in prison, and so on. But he hasn’t admitted to being guilty to crimes he did not commit. He is seen as not being rehabilitated by the system because he won’t accept responsibility for a crime he did not commit and he won’t express personal remorse. Had Rodney’s words had been heeded, the crimes may not have occurred, and while he is very sorry about what happened to the victim, someone he had known, he can’t express remorse for crimes he did not commit (see this blog on Gun Control and Rodney Stanberry).
Rodney’s parole hearing is on the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This was an incredible event with people from all walks of life, from all colors of the rainbow speaking truth to power, people expressing the belief that equality, fairness, justice, and the United States Constitution apply to all, not some. Also written 50 years ago, a few months before the March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote letter from a Birmingham City Jail. He addressed ministers who accused him to stirring up people, he was accused of being an outside agitator, he was asked why did he come to Birmingham. You have to read his speech to get the full impact. But I am going to take a moment to quote just one line that most remember from this speech.* I am not one who likes to remember or encourage the memory of just one line of his speeches given my personal agitation that the only line that people cite without understanding or reading the full speech and its meaning of the “I Have a Dream” speech is the line about his 4 little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I am going to quote just the “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice” line from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail speech because it is a line that I wish people- read prosecutors/District Attorneys, judges, legislators and, yes, parole board members, would internalize. There is no justice in keeping an innocent person in prison. And when we practice injustice whether the wrongfully convicted inmate is in a prison in Alabama or in solitary confinement in Texas, as Anthony Graves was in before he was exonerated (http://www.democracynow.org/2012/6/22/from_death_row_to_exoneration_fmr), this injustice is a threat to justice for everyone. Rodney was a hardworking young man, who also enjoyed life. He was working when (yes, actually at the time) these crimes took place, but he remains in prison, he is on year 17.
What if Rodney K. Stanberry isn’t granted parole?
Of course I will continue to fight for his freedom and exoneration. Not believing in the system, at least for me, doesn’t translate to tuning out. District Attorneys, including the ones who have jurisdiction over Rodney’s case, John M. Tyson, Jr. (former) and Ashley Rich (current) of the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, do not respond to moralsuasion (ie moral persuasion), so I will have to spend the next 16 years of my life pursuing a law degree and fighting within the system. What happened to get the conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry should never be sanctioned anywhere and reforms must be in place to avoid these types of convictions from happening.
I will not give up on his case, even if I give up believing in our system of justice. In these United States, a countless number of named and unnamed people fought against the inhuman and brutal system of slavery, the false promise and aftermath of the Reconstruction era, the Jim Crow system with its separate water fountains, burial grounds, bus seats that attempted to reinforce inferiority by virtual of birth, the modern day Civil Rights era where the children, college students, and adults said enough is enough, you will recognize our humanity, to the Dream Defenders occupying the state capitol of Florida standing up for what they believe in. So if the day ever comes that I do stop believing as a result of just one heartbreak too many, it does not mean that I would not keep fighting to correct a wrong, I would not stop fighting against an injustice, this injustice against Rodney K. Stanberry, and this injustice against the system of justice itself. Justice is not served when the wrong person is convicted. We have to keep up the fight against injustice because, after all, an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and I want to live in a place where there is justice everywhere.
Click here for the latest video about Rodney K. Stanberry
You can call Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich to ask that she reopens Rodney’s case (251) 574-5000 or (251) 574-8400. You can reach her via email at email@example.com
You can also sign this petition that will be delivered to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on August 28th, 2013.
*”Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country. “ Letter from Birmingham City Jail, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington, HarperCollins, 1986, p. 290.