JUSTICE FOR THE GADSDEN 6: Black Children Are A Commodity In the Criminal Justice System

The Gadsden 6. Clockwise from Top Left to Right: Roland Martin, Melvin Ray (Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun), Fred Brown, Steven Stewart, Curtis Richardson (not pictured) and Archie Hamlet.

On March 24, 1988, at appx. 1:00 am, these six Black men were arrested in Gadsden, Alabama, for the burglary of a Belk Hudson department store. At the time, we were all 16 years of age or younger, and considered children by Alabama law.

After our arrest, we were taken to the police precinct, where we would be questioned for several hours, without any attorneys being present and without any of our parents being notified of where we were or what was going on.

When the interrogation ended around 4:00 am, the police officers, appx. four to six, all white, were satifised that we could be charged with over 30 felony counts of burglary and theft offense, not only for the burglary of that night but for several other unsolved burglaries as well.

Later that same morning of March 24, after spending a few more hours being processed into the youth facility, we were hauled into court for what was supposed to have been an initial appearance hearing. The only adults present for this hearing were the judge, the prosecutor, several of the police officers, and a case worker.

What transpired next . . .

Once in the courtroom, we were supposed to have a what in Alabama is called an “initial appearance” hearing where we received an explanation of the charges against us and be informed of our rights, including the right to have attorneys and to have our parents present with us in court to contest the charges.

Instead, something else happened that would affect us for the rest of their life.

The judge, prosecutor and the police held a private conference outside of our presence and beyond our ability to hear what was going on. When they adjourned, the prosecutor and the judge did all of the talking. The prosecutor stated that there would be a “stipulation” or admission of probable cause by the state in behalf of all six of us — to all 30-plus charges. The police officer concurred. The judge then stated that he accepted the stipulation and entered the stipulation into the official record of the court. We never spoke. Never knew what the word “stipulation” meant of what was going on.

MARCH 24, 1988 CASE ACTION SUMMARY FROM GADSDEN, ALA JUVENILE COURT WHERE THE “STIPULATION” WAS ENTERED BY THE COURT

This stipulation is extremely unethical and highly unusual. First and foremost, no one, not a judge, prosecutor, or police officer can stipulate to a criminal charge for anyone on their first appearance in court. And even worse, this was done to children who did not have attorneys and whose parents were never notified and were not present.

The imagery of this scene and how these adults committed these acts against these children is undeniable: A white judge. White prosecutor. All white police officers. Both case workers white. The only Black face in the room were those of six children. We were not viewed as children but as feeder stock for the system of Mass Incarceration. With the stipulation, we could now be transferred to adult court where we could receive real felony convictions and all of the disabilities that come with that.

It hard to imagine that in a period of just a few short hours, six children could be arrested, interrogated for over three hours by a group of all- white police detectives, charged with over 30 felony offenses, and then taken into a courtroom without an attorney or even a parent present, only to have the prosecutor and police make an admission of guilt for them, which a judge then dutifully accepts before ordering the children detained.

 

After this stipulation was made, all six of us would ultimately be transferred to adult court were we would suffer convictions that would be with us for the rest of our lives. The problem is that we never should have been in adult court in the first place. The proceedings in juvenile court were illegal and unethical. Today, we are fighting for the justice that we were entitled to in 1988.

Join the fight for Justice for The Gadsden 6 as we demand that the judgement and orders issued by Juvenile Judge Robert E. Lewis and the actions of the prosecutor be declared unconstitutional and void. The record of these convictions still stand today, and they must be corrected.

GADSDEN 6