A long time for killing
Today, across the nation, we witness homicidal violence delivered against unarmed people by law enforcement officers. These beatings and killings are carried out with something close to impunity. The cops almost always get away with murder. Moreover, these crimes are nothing new; they are longstanding in practice.
A study of police brutality in three major cities---conducted just about half a century ago in 1967---found that all the victims had one thing in common: they were from low-income groups. Other studies however showed that it often was enough just to be Black, even if middle class.
Take the case of Carl Newland, an African-American, 48-year-old accountant who happened to be walking by a newsstand that had just been robbed one evening in 1975. He was roughed up by the police, then brought before the newsstand clerk, who emphatically denied that Newland was the stickup man. Nevertheless, because of his "belligerent attitude" he was taken to jail and severely beaten by the police, according to statements by several prisoners. He died in his cell that same night. Consider some other cases.
About a half century ago, a Black man was forced to lie face down in a Detroit motel and a policeman cold-bloodedly pumped a bullet into his head.
--At about that same time, a 10-year-old Black boy walking with his foster father in Queens, New York, was killed by a plainclothes policeman who leaped from his unmarked car, firing away without identifying himself, shouting "Hey niggers!"
--A White "hippie" (as counterculture people were called in the late 1960s and 1970s ), finding his home suddenly surrounded by unidentified, armed men in Humboldt County, California, fled in terror out the back door only to be shot dead by county police and narcotic agents surrounding his house, the wrong house. Raiding the wrong house and shooting its frightened inhabitants became a regular pastime decades ago. "Fighting crime" and "fighting the drug war" were the call of the day.
--A 12-year-old Chicano boy in Dallas, arrested as a burglary suspect, was shot through his head by a cop.
--A Black shell-shocked Vietnam veteran was killed by two police on a Houston street as he reached into his pocket to take out a Bible.
--In Champaign, Illinois, in 1970, a frightened African American bookstore employee attempted flight when police menacingly approached his car. He was shot in the back. The culpable officer was indicted for voluntary manslaughter, released on a $5,000 bond and soon found "not guilty" by an all-White, middle-American jury.
--In Cambridge, Massachusetts, an Italian-American, working-class youth was beaten to death by cops in a police van.
--A New York policeman shot a 22-year-old Black college student who was standing with his hands in the air. Then the cop planted a toy pistol next to the victim's body.
--A Chicano youth in Houston was taken to a secluded spot by cops, beaten until unconscious, then thrown into a bayou to drown.
--A Black youth, who was attempting to retrieve a basketball in a schoolyard, was shot through the head by Chicago police. One could go on and on with stories from years past about how the courageous Thin Blue Line repeatedly saved us with their endless killings.
Today, sparked by body-cam videos and social media, people are giving more attention to eye-witness accounts of such frightful events. Our Boys in Blue are being challenged by groups such as Black Lives Matter. But let us not overlook the many who were victimized by police during the late 1960s and 1970s and who are still with us, not merely in memory but in actuality. That is to say, a substantial number of those unjustly convicted long-ago are still in prison today. We all can name some of them: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Herman Bell, Janine Africa, Hugo Pinell, and others. Consider also the lesser known cases. One that I have in mind is Gary Tyler.
In 1974 in Louisiana, a bus carrying Black children was attacked by a mob of Whites, some of whom were armed. According to the bus driver, a gun was fired from the attacking crowd. The shot missed the bus but killed a White youth in the surrounding crowd. The police arrived and forced the Black students out of the bus and to their knees. One of them, Gary Tyler (16-years-old at the time) was arrested for "interfering with an officer." What he actually did was voice his objection to the deputy sheriff's putting a gun to the heads of kneeling Black students.
The police claimed they found a gun on the bus but it curiously turned out to be a police revolver with no fingerprints. Nevertheless Gary was charged with being the possessor of the gun and murderer of the White youth. He was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
The prosecution's case rested entirely on two witnesses, both of whom recanted their testimony. Both charged that police had coerced them into fingering Tyler. The police had threatened to take one witness' child away from her and charge her as an accessory to the killing. In any case, the judge refused to grant a new trial. Gary ended up with a life sentence and no chance of parole.
This 16-year old student, Gary Tyler, had attempted to calm a snarling officer who was uttering threats while pointing his loaded weapon at the heads of Black school children. Gary could sense the rage emitting from the trigger-happy cops. Over the years many of us have confronted police in one or another such situation. Nowadays we get numerous same-day recordings of "cops gone wild" with pile-on beatings and shootings of unarmed civilians. On each occasion the local police department announces, "The incident is under investigation." The killer cop usually is given "administrative leave with pay," or what some of us would call "paid vacation."
The police tell us that the victim was reaching for his waist ban or was holding a cellphone in his hand that looked like a gun---certainly enough like a gun to perforate him with a deluge of bullets. The public hears the cop's familiar story. When attorneys and media ask for more information, what we get is what the police department decides they want us to see. Before too long, the accused cop is kindly stroked by a White, suburban Grand Jury and an obligingly soft-handed prosecutor who has his own eye on a more elevated juridical or political office, and who therefore does not want to offend his war-against-crime White constituency.
Gary Tyler is now 57 years old. He has been in prison since he was 16. He will likely remain incarcerated for the rest of his life unless the numerous pleas from around the country and from countries around the world should start having some impact.
There are scores of prisoners of political note, and hundreds of others like Gary who were just in the wrong place or just speaking up against the potentially lethal behavior of police. They continue to be victimized by a law enforcement system capable of the most venal acts both within the community and in the courtroom, taking away whole lifetimes of innocent people by use of street executions or judicial killings or perpetual incarcerations---an abuse of justice that is beyond measure.
Michael Parenti's most recent books are Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life (an ethnic memoir); and Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies.
Free at last?
He always had a feeling it would always come down to just one person. One governor to agree to sign the release. One judge to admit his mistake. One man to cleanse his soul and confess his sin.
On Monday, June 25th 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States of America held that "The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders." He was a juvenile when he was sentenced for a homicide. The state mandated that he had to be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This ruling applies to him. Five Supreme Justices concurred; four dissented. One vote separated the ayes from the nays. One person decided that potentially he can finally be free. If one person who said aye had said nay, this too would have been a dead end. But they didn't. Five to four. The ayes have it.
His juvenile years are long gone, as is much of his adult life. His once defiant dreadlocks thinned and turned to grey many years ago and have since been shaved off. But devotion to maintaining a disciplined regime to keep body and soul healthy has kept the spirit alive. His eyes still hold that flame of defiance.
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Supreme Court strikes down mandatory life terms for juveniles
what will this decision mean for Gary?
from the LA Times ... It is cruel and unusual punishment to send a young murderer to die in prison if a judge has not weighed whether his youth and the nature of his crime merited a shorter prison term, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The 5-4 decision struck down laws in 28 states that mandated life terms for juvenile murderers with no hope for parole.
The justices ruled in the cases of two 14-year-old boys, one from Alabama and one from Arkansas, who were given life terms for their roles in homicides. But the decision applies to all those under 18 who are sentenced under mandatory laws.
The ruling could lead to new sentencing or parole hearings for more than 2,000 prisoners around the country who committed homicides when they were young and were given mandatory life terms. The justices set a new constitutional rule that prisoners could cite in their appeals.
A Passion Play in Prison: Enacting Forgivness & Redemption
It is painfully hot and dry in the rodeo arena at Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in America. Under a blazing sun American flags hang limply around the sand-covered enclosure, where 70 prisoners are acting out a unique version of "The Life of Jesus Christ". By the time the three ingeniously constructed crosses are raised on a small hill of dirt, the physical torture of a slow death by crucifixion is palpable.
Gary Tyler, the longtime president of the Angola Prison Drama Club and the play's director, is one of them. In a trial that a federal appeals court found to be "fundamentally unfair", he was convicted of murder and originally sentenced to death. Since his arrival at Angola in 1975 there have been repeated calls for his release.
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National Conference of Black Lawyers calls for Gary's release
Gary Tyler was born in July 1958. Originally sentenced to death, he now is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole to comply with the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling finding Louisiana’s death penalty unconstitutional. Gary was convicted in January 1977, at the age of 17, for first degree murder in the death of a 13 year old white boy that occurred when Gary was 16 years old. The murder of the 13 year old took place in a racially charged atmosphere, exacerbated by the Ku Klux Klan, when Louisiana was attempting to desegregate the schools as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. There are significant problems with Mr. Tyler’s conviction. Amnesty International, citing disturbing racial and political factors that occurred during the case, has deemed Gary Tyler a political prisoner.
Join the National Conference of Black Lawyers in honoring the spirit of Mandela on the occasion of his 93rd birthday in calling for the end to the woman-hunt for Assata Shakur and release of Gary Tyler.
Urgent Action for Gary Tyler urged by Amnesty International
"Earlier this year, a petition was filed with the Louisiana Pardon Board requesting that Gary Tyler’s life sentence be commuted to a defined number of years so that the outgoing state governor can authorize his release before she leaves office in January 2008. This may be Gary Tyler’s last chance for justice through executive clemency.
Despite his youth at the time of trial, and his exemplary record in prison, Gary Tyler has served more than three times as much as the national US average for a person convicted of murder or non-negligent manslaughter. As a life sentenced prisoner Gary Tyler cannot be granted release on parole unless his sentence is first commuted to a term of years by the Pardon Board and the Board’s recommendation is accepted by the Governor. High ranking staff at Angola have reportedly endorsed his latest application for a pardon on the ground that he has matured into a responsible citizen deserving of release. However, to date his name has not yet appeared on the parole board’s docket for a hearing, and it is feared that, without further pressure, he may miss the chance to be heard before the governor leaves office".
Notable Sports Figures Call on Gov. Blanco to Free Gary
The Nation Magazine has just published a statement signed by 19 notable sports figures calling for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to pardon Gary Tyler. The statement, signed by Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Lee Evans, Jim Bouton, Bill "Spaceman" Lee and Dennis Brutus among others, can be read here.
The statement accompanies an article about Gary writted by Dave Zirin which can be read here.
The New York Daily News has covered this development as well. The article written by John Dellapina can be read half-way down this page.
Hear Gary in his own words, on Democracy Now!
Democracy Now! devoted almost an entire hour to Gary Tyler on Thursday, March 1. Amy Goodman interviewed Bob Herbert of the New York Times, along with Gary's mother Juanita and his sister Bobbie McCray. Read, watch or listen here. The audio is also available as a podcast from iTunes.
Bob Herbert on Gary Tyler
The columns that Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote about Gary's case can be found here.
Jailed For A Crime He Never Committed
GARY TYLER, at one time the youngest person on death row, turned forty-eight years old this July. He has spent thirty-two of those years in jail for a crime he did not commit. The case of Gary Tyler is one of the great miscarriages of justice in the modern history of the United States, in a country where the miscarriage of justice is part of the daily routine of government business. “This case is just permeated with racism all the way through it,” declared Mary Howell, Gary’s longtime attorney, “from the initial event all the way up to the pardon process.” Yet, far too few people are aware of Gary Tyler’s case, which in the mid-1970s mobilized thousands across the country for his freedom and led Amnesty International to declare him a political prisoner. Over the last twenty years, hundreds of death row inmates and scores of others have been exonerated for the crimes they were falsely convicted of by racist and corrupt prosecutors. It’s long past time that Gary Tyler should have gone free.