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

Free All American Slaves: and While you’re at it, Reform the Reformers

Every time a major incident occurs in a prison in this country like what we are experiencing in Mississippi, the first thing we see are statements calling for more guards and more security. But what we need to see more of are statements calling for mass releases and less people incarcerated in these hell holes and dungeons.

The problems in Mississippi have gripped Alabama, South Carolina, Delaware, Texas, Oklahoma, California and other prison systems. There is a disconnect between reality and the source of the problem. Human life was not intended to be lived in a cage, a steel and concrete cell, or a prefab building. It’s telling when we have so many “advocates” and reformers, etc calling for better living conditions. This is a symptom and reflection of the “kind slave master” who believes that the institution of slavery can be humane with proper amenities, a full staff of corrections officers, and technologies that will allow for the system to “keep an eye” on the plantation warehouses.

But . . . these ideas have to be rejected as well, because they reflect acceptance of the institution, which is predicated on white supremacy, social control of black and brown people and the racist belief that Black, Brown and poor white people are somehow less human and , therefore, deserving of being separated from society and caged like the brutes and beasts of burden that they allegedly are, and whose best purpose is the be directed and guided towards forced labor to enrich the rulers of society.


Even in the conversations about prison reform, you never hear the “benevolent reformers” mention the forced labor endemic to the slave plantations. Sure, they will point out the fact that Black people are disproportionately targeted for Incarceration, but they never delve into the issue of forced labor and the history of slavery. Why? Because the reformers are the descendants of the former slave masters. The reformers habor the same racist thoughts about the “bad nigger” and those who “need to be there.” They call these the “violent offenders” or the “murders” etc, yet they don’t want to acknowledge the intentionally created social and economic conditions that are major contributing factors to these social crimes in the first place.

The reforms don’t need to start at the Prisons or the criminal justice system. It needs to start with the cultural norms, the ideologies and ingrained values of the reformers that lead to the creation of slave plantations and prisons in the first place. But to start here would require the “reformers” to take a look in the mirror. To look at the family tree and their ancestry . And the “reformers” don’t want to start there because then they have to look at the values that they hold dear; the institutions that they pledge allegiance to, and the fears that they habor about people simply because of the color of their skin.


The easy way out is to blame the victim in the cages for their own problems. And say that their prisons only need more guards to keep those who deserve there. When the reality is that prisons are so inhumane that not even the worst that a racist, hatful, deranged society has created deserves to live in a cage – no matter the size of the cage, the level of security, of the wages , cameras and extra safe locks on the doors. Mississippi has shown, once again, that the worst of society are those who try to maintain, reform, and select who should stay and who should be released on parole, receive good time in, America’s cages. Ain’t no way to fix or reform it. It’s time to FREE ALL AMERICAN SLAVES !!!
F. A. M

THE FLAG FOR FREEDOM IN ALABAMA, NOT REFORM !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Shelburne Interview with Willie J. Simmons – Sentenced to Life for 9 dollar robbery

WILLIE J. SIMMONS, 62 years old. 37 years in prison. LWOP. $9.00 robbery.

By Beth Shelburne

Today I talked to Willie Simmons, who has spent the last 38 years in prison for stealing $9. He was convicted of 1st degree robbery & sentenced to life without parole in 1982, prosecuted under Alabama’s habitual offender law because he had 3 prior convictions. He told me his priors were 1 grand larceny and 2 receiving stolen property. I could only locate the grand larceny from 1979, but court records in Alabama are spotty. He did a year in prison for that conviction, and thinks he did about the same for the other crimes. “But I really can’t remember,” he said.

Mr. Simmons was 25 when the state said he should die in prison. Today he’s 62. When I asked his age he paused & laughed. “Been so long since somebody asked me that,” he said. He hasn’t had a visitor since 2005 after his sister died. “Haven’t heard from nobody since then.”

Mr. Simmons is incarcerated at Holman, one of the most violent prisons in the country. He is studying for his GED and “tries to stay away from the wild bunch.” He got sober in prison 18 years ago, despite being surrounded by drugs. “I just talked to God about it,” he said. Mr. Simmons told me he was high on drugs when he committed the crime that landed him in prison for life. He wrestled a man to the ground and stole his wallet which contained $9. “I was just trying to get me a quick fix,” he said. Police arrested him a few blocks away. He remembers his trial lasting 25 minutes and his appointed attorney calling no witnesses. Prosecutors did not offer him a plea deal, even though all of his prior offenses were nonviolent. “They kept saying we’ll do our best to keep you off the streets for good,” he said.

Mr. Simmons told me he grew up poor in Enterprise, Alabama. He started using drugs in high school, but dropped out at age 16. “It was real bad,” he said about his drug use. He was using hard drugs when he committed his crimes. “It was all stupid. I was messed up.”

Over the years, he’s filed appeal after appeal, with no lawyer. All were denied. “In a place like this, it can feel like you’re standing all alone,” he told me. “I ain’t got nobody on the outside to call and talk to. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in outer space.”

“My hope is to get out of here, settle down with a woman and do God’s will,” he continued. “I’d like to tell people about how bad drugs are.” Mr. Simmons said he sees men doing drugs all the time in prison, but he stays away. He hasn’t gotten a disciplinary citation in a decade.

In 2014, lawmakers removed the last avenue of appeal for people like Mr. Simmons serving life without parole under the habitual offender law. I asked if he had hope that leaders would reconsider that. “Yes, I’ve been hoping and praying on it,” he said. “I ain’t giving up.”

Mr. Simmons did not deny his crimes & I am not writing this to argue that he’s innocent. He has paid for his crimes with his entire adult life, cast away like he wasn’t worth redemption. It sickens me to think about how many other people are warehoused in prison, forgotten. When tough on crime people say everyone in prison deserves to be there, think of Mr. Simmons. We should be ashamed of laws that categorically throw people away in the name of safety. We should question anyone who supports Alabama’s habitual offender law. It needs to go.


You can write to Mr Simmons at:

WILLIE JUNIOR SIMMONS AIS: 00112862
A Dorm, Bed 57
3700 Holman Unit
Atmore, AL 36503-3700

Don’t forget to add your return address (that is the prison policy) in the top left corner of your envelope, thank you.

Justice for The Gadsden 6

Justice for The Gadsden 6

Gadsden 6 photogrid

Clockwise from top left: Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Fred Brown, Steve Stewart, Curtis Richardson, Archie Hamlet

Introduction

When Children are exploited by the Juvenile Justice System in Alabama

Thirty-one years ago on March 24, 1988, six Black children, all under the age of 17, Fred Brown, Archie Hamlet, Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Curtis Richardson and Steve Stewart, were arrested by Gadsden police in the early morning hours around 1:00 am, for a department store burglary. After their arrest, these six children were taken to the police station for a three-hours long interrogation. The children were not represented by attorneys and their parents were not present during this interrogation.

The interrogations were conducted by an all-white group of 4 to 6 detectives. When the interrogation was completed around 4:00 am, these children were charged with over 30 felony offenses involving several unsolved burglaries in Gadsden.

Just a few hours after this early-morning interrogation ended, police and the district attorney’s office then marched these children into court for an initial appearance hearing that quickly turned into a full fledged probable cause detention hearing. None of the children were represented in court by an attorney, and none of their parents were present. It was just the judge, police, and the D.A.

At the hastily erected probable cause detention hearing, which was orchestrated by the juvenile court judge, the DA and police, the judge allowed the D.A. to stipulate to probable cause on behalf of all six children to ALL 30-plus charges pending against them.
This illegal probable cause stipulation would then be used to justify continued detention of these children and removal from their homes, parents and siblings.

Juvenile Court Judge Robert E. Lewis’ order states:

“At detention hearing probable cause stipulated to and child ordered detained. . .”

Copy of Melvin Ray's Detention Hearing sheet

Copy of Melvin Ray’s Detention Hearing sheet

As the above court record shows, attorneys were not appointed until April 6, 1988, two full weeks after the arrest and “probable cause” stipulation were made.

Meanwhile, the Gadsden 6 remained in detention for over a month, until April 27, 1988, when the juvenile court judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer these children to adult court. The juvenile court judge granted the prosecutor’s motion to transfer on the same day that it was filed, without conducting a transfer hearing or even notifying anyone that the motion had been filed.

None of the children were present when this motion was heard, no one was served notice of the prosecutor’s motion, the children did not have legal representation to review the motion or present evidence in their behalf, and none of their parents were present when the motion was heard or granted. Injustice was administered behind closed doors when no one was looking…

On to Adult Court…

Once in adult court, the Gadsden 6 were given an ultimatum: plead guilty to all charges and go home that day with sentences of time served and probation, or take a chance on trial and spend the next decade of their lives in prison. The authorities in Gadsden saddled these young black children with over 20 adult felony convictions that would follow them for the rest of their lives, and through a process that guaranteed injustice, as no one was present during the juvenile proceedings to protect the constitutional rights of these children or the parental rights of their parents.

These illegally prior felony convictions have been used in subsequent adult proceedings to enhance many of the Gadsden 6’s sentences under Alabama’s draconian habitual felony offender law, resulting in an additional 50-plus years of illegal time being served, including two instances where life without parole was illegally imposed.

Join the Gadsden 6’s demand for justice !!!

  1. All proceedings and convictions be declared null and void and removed from their records.
  2. All records in juvenile and adult court be expunged.
  3. Compensation and acknowledgement of the wrongful nature of the proceedings used against them, including full legal pardons.

Sign our petition to the Alabama Legislature and the Alabama courts to rectify this injustice put upon the Gadsden 6 by the Gadsden Police Department, the Gadsden DA, and the Juvenile & Adult Divisions of the Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama.

Follow the GADSDEN 6 on Facebook @ Justice For The Gadsden 6.

Gadsden 6 Supporters at Courtroom 29 July 2019

Gadsden 6 Supporters at the Montgomery Courtroom, 29 July 2019

July 29, 2019 court hearing in Montgomery, AL

Justice for the Gadsden 6 poster

Justice for the Gadsden 6 poster

Press Release: Updates from Limestone Correctional

unheardvoices o.t.c.j.

For Immediate Release
Press contacts:

Unheard Voices O.T.C.J.
Unheardvoices78@gmail.com

Attorney Richard Rice
256-529-0462
rrice@rice-lawfirm.com

Nikki Davenport
FAM Queen Team
256-221-7658

Recently, Ella Fassler, writing for Truthout, released an article in relation to a piece published here shedding light on the torture practices used by ADOC officials at Limestone Correctional Center in Harvest, Alabama (find that post here).  The piece was instantly retweeted and attracted significant outrage among its readers (you can read it here). We now want to update you on the situation at Limestone C.C. following the release of that story and the actions taken by Kenneth Shaun Traywick, AIS 177252. Traywick, as well as Robert Earl Council, AIS 181418, not only led Unheard Voices O.T.C.J. to the initial knowledge of the existence of the “Bucket Detail,” but Traywick also went on a 14-day hunger strike demanding Limestone C.C. administration stop the bucket detail and the…

View original post 968 more words