My First Visit to ABHM

GRIOT: Richard Prestor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Richard Prestor as he appeared when he first visited the museum in 1988.

An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced the opening date of a new museum; America’s Black Holocaust Museum. “What is that about?” I wondered, “And what is a Black Holocaust?” There was something written about lynching. Lynching? I was not sure that word had ever been said aloud by any teacher in all my grade school or high school years. Now this Mr. Cameron says that he actually survived being lynched. I had to meet him and see his museum. A few weeks later, in July 1988, I arrived at the museum. The building’s address was on Wright Street, just a few yards west of N. Doctor M.L. King Drive. A sign identified the building as the Sultan Muhammad Islamic Center. I saw no sign for the museum. After knocking on the Wright street door, a young man opened it and slowly looked me up and down as I asked him if the Black Holocaust Museum was there. He simply nodded and pointed me up a set of stairs a few feet away.

The stairway opened into an expansive, open, second-floor room, with large windows facing east. Across the old hardwood floor, an elderly, gentle-looking man was walking toward me. His was not the broadly smiling approach of a public attraction manager, but rather, Mr. Cameron came forward with the easy, amiable walk of someone greeting a recently-made friend. His smile was warm and welcoming.

James Cameron in his new museum at its dedication in 1988. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I said, “Hi. I came to see your museum.” He introduced himself as we shook hands, and he thanked me for coming. He asked how I had heard about his museum, and I told of the article, explaining that I knew nothing more about it. He nodded and asked if I had a little time to talk. “Sure,” I replied.

I noticed that the large room had no other visitors and there were few exhibits. There were three or four big glass display cases, maybe six or seven feet tall [as I seem to remember them now], plus some poster sized photographs.

James Cameron revisiting the jail cell in Marion, Indiana, from which he was dragged by a mob to the lynching tree on which two friends had already been hanged on August 7, 1930. Johnson Publishing Co.

Mr. Cameron began telling me his story, pretty much from the beginning, as we slowly walked toward one of the display cases. He was not describing events, like a lecturer might; he was retelling personal memories, as if he was recounting old details and emotions with a friend.

Being a complete stranger to him, I felt a little awkward about that at first, but the more we walked and he talked, the more I became aware that he was not saying anything angry or bitter about his painful past. He was quietly happy to just have someone willing to listen and be supportive. He wanted people to learn and understand.

We never stopped at any particular display case to discuss items within. I asked only simple questions relating to his story. We drifted slowly around. He occasionally pointed to a photo or mentioned some item that related, but telling the story was all important.

With his book, A Time of Terror: A Survivor's Story, circa 1994. Courtesy of the Cameron Family.

With his book, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, circa 1994. Courtesy of the Cameron Family.

Nearing the end, Mr. Cameron said he had written his story and published a book titled, A Time of Terror. Realizing that I’d already been visiting for over twenty minutes and would need to leave soon, I asked if I could buy his book right there. He smiled a Yes and went to get a copy.

Returning with it, he asked if he could sign it for me.   He was a humble gentleman.

On the title page, he wrote,

I treasure my early visit with him, and I’ve kept his special book in a safe place ever since.

Canadian lawyers are pushing courts to consider systemic racism

By Tamara Khandaker

Vice News Canada

Defense lawyers in Ontario want to start pushing judges to consider how systemic racism may have contributed to the criminal activity of black offenders they are sentencing.

Image courtesy of CBC News

While courts in the province have long recognized the relevance of race and racism when meting out punishment, what has been lacking is a specific mechanism to deal with the issue, argued Wayne van der Meide, a regional manager for Legal Aid Ontario.

The proposed cultural assessment — much like the Gladue report that judges, defense lawyers and Crown counsel can request when sentencing Aboriginal offenders —  would give judges expert evidence on how the person’s environment, as well as the history of racism in Canada, may have contributed to his or her criminal activity.

Read the entire article here

Read about America’s incarceration problem here

Read more Breaking News here

3 Adults and Baby Died In A Jail Run By Potential Homeland Security Head

By Ryan J. Reilly Senior Justice Reporter, The Huffington Post

screenshot-2016-12-01-10-11-18…Four people, including a newborn baby, have died at the Milwaukee County Jail since April. One man, a 38-year-old with mental health issues, died of “profound dehydration.” For a facility with a population cap of 960 that previously averaged a couple of deaths per year, the string of deaths is concerning.

[A court-appointed medical monitor, Dr. Ronald Shanksy, has interviewed staffers at the jail that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke runs.] During his visit, Shanksy said he was alarmed by the “extremely large number of vacancies” at the facility, particularly for medical positions.

“Questions certainly can be raised about the occurrence of these four recent deaths and the relationship to officer shortages … as well as the health care staffing vacancies and the adequacy of oversight of staff,” Shanksy wrote.

Now Clarke may be overseeing a much larger operation. Clarke was in New York City once again this week to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. He’s reportedly in the running to take over the Department of Homeland Security, and said he would accept a Trump cabinet position if asked.

Clarke’s national profile rose a few years ago when he began making regular appearances on Fox News in late 2014 to talk about policing after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown. Since then, he’s made a name for himself by providing a voice for those who want to believe there’s nothing wrong with our criminal justice system and to ignore America’s historic racial inequalities.

screenshot-2016-12-01-10-11-46Clarke, who grew up in a white neighborhood and attended a mostly white private high school, has said African Americans sell drugs “because they’re uneducated, they’re lazy, and they’re morally bankrupt.” He calls Black Lives Matter “Black Lies Matter” and compared them to the KKK. He once claimed that “police brutality ended in the 1960s.” Clarke made an appearance in July at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where RNC delegates gave him a standing ovation as he proclaimed “Blue Lives Matter” and celebrated the acquittal of a Baltimore officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray….

A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial said Clarke’s office had been “shamefully silent” about the deaths and hasn’t provided records regarding outside investigations that the county is legally required to have. 

“Maybe Clarke thinks the peasants of Milwaukee County don’t need to know what’s happening at the jail. Maybe he’s hoping for a call from President-elect Donald Trump (for whom he campaigned so eagerly while people were dying in his jail) so that he can walk away from doing his job,” the editorial said. “Whatever his faulty reasoning, he’s wrong. Clarke owes the public answers about the deaths and about the state of inmate care at the jail. And the public deserves a sheriff who will do his job.”

Read the full article here.

More Breaking News here.

 

Suit Alleges ‘Scheme’ in Criminal Costs Borne by New Orleans’s Poor

By 

Alana Cain at the Orleans Parish Criminal Court on Thursday. She spent a week behind bars for failure to pay court fees. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

Alana Cain at the Orleans Parish Criminal Court on Thursday. She spent a week behind bars for failure to pay court fees. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

NEW ORLEANS — Late at night, after the lawyers had gone home, Alana Cain washed the floors at a downtown firm. One morning, a ring disappeared; Ms. Cain, 26, was charged and eventually pleaded guilty. The judge ordered her to pay $1,800 in restitution. He also imposed roughly $950 on top of that in court fines and fees.

LA prisoners NewOrleansTimesPicayune

Prisoners in a Louisiana jail

She paid in installments, coming to the collections office with $50 every two weeks for more than a year. Once, after too long a jobless spell, she was late with her payment. She phoned the court collections officer and told him she was getting the money. It was in her pocket when the police pulled over the car in which she was riding, citing a broken taillight. There was already a warrant; she spent a week in jail before she could see a judge.

On Thursday, Ms. Cain joined five other plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the criminal district court here, among others, alleging that judges and court officials have been running an “illegal scheme” in which poor people are indefinitely jailed if they fall behind on payments of court fines, fees and assessments. The suit describes how fees are imposed with no hearing about a person’s ability to pay, and how nearly all components of the local criminal justice system — the judges, the prosecutors, the public defenders — benefit financially to some degree.

“The extent to which every actor in the local New Orleans legal system depends on this money for their own survival is shocking,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a founder of Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights group, and one of the lawyers who filed the suit….

…[I]n general, said Mr. Karakatsanis, who filed a similar suit in Ferguson, Mo., in February and helped force changes to jailing policies in Montgomery, Ala., last year, “the effort to fund local court systems on the backs of the very poor is not an aberration.”…

The fees can begin accumulating immediately after an arrest, as soon as a bond is set. While a federal court in 1991 struck down a state law allowing New Orleans judges to take a percentage of each bond, a subsequent law mostly reinstituted this arrangement — but split up the percentage among the other actors in the criminal justice system.

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.