“Just Cause” or “Just Because”?

As time has permitted, and circumstance demands, I find myself wondering. With COVID giving an overwhelmingly unjust advantage to prosecutors that allows them to forego court rules, delay indefinitely for “COVID-like symptoms” or close contact, that allows a person to be held indefinitely while awaiting the opportunity to present their case before a judge, that allows MDOC to be the exact cause of a court’s decision … I wonder, how long would the unjust advantage be allowed to continue if it gave the advantage to the defendants instead of the prosecution? Not long, I guarantee you. Not one day.

I know that if the roles were reversed and defendants were gaining an advantage due to COVID, the courts and prosecutors would enact some emergency procedure, or give some kind of executive order, that would end that quick.

Once again, after 16 months of waiting, at least ten delays, four for trial alone, there has been another adjournment in my case until February 14. This time, as before, it was for “just cause” according to the prosecution and judge. What makes me think it was actually “just because” is that even when I agreed to allow a witness in quarantine to testify via zoom, I was told that the witness wouldn’t be prepared.

When the Bow Breaks

For a person of color, through so many forms of repression and oppression, being involved in the judicial process is like what an African slave fresh off the ship must have felt when first arriving on the shores of any slavers’ port. Or those first attempting to gain freedom through the newly formed “antislavery” government, uneducated in its meaning or necessity, much less its ways, protocols, or procedures, being talked at instead of talked to, not understanding any of the language.

But not only because it’s a foreign tongue, but also because no matter what’s said, you know the outcome is going to be bad. Because the very people who are trying to soothe you into acceptance are the same people who have taken you away from your home or country, forcefully, with no opportunity to see family or take care of necessary priorities for when a person plans to be gone. Just snatched by unfamiliar people, forcefully, pushed into a system that will barter your freedom. Neither system giving a damn about the living, breathing person involved. Both just trying to exact the best price from and for your flesh.

It’s like we are children new to a world and dependent on the morality of those who are supposed to protect us from harm, to hold us up.

But what happens when the bow breaks? A metaphor for a legal system so messed up for the biggest percentage of people flowing through it. When the system is supposedly designed to aid those not fortunate enough to be able to pay for an attorney, now not only can’t logically get adequate legal representation, due to not enough public defenders to give the time and attention that is fair to chances of success, but also some of those that are charged with representing you are actually working toward your downfall.

I said all that to say this, and because of this. I recently heard that the prosecutor responded to a query from a member of the public about this latest delay in my trial by saying that it was postponed because of me, because I did not want to let the witness testify by zoom. I told my attorney face-to-face that I would allow the witness to testify via zoom and she relayed this to the court. However, when we went on the record, my attorney just blurted out that I wanted the witness there. Now, there are a couple of reasons I didn’t contradict my attorney at the time, the first being a fear of looking like a difficult person, and second, the degree of trust one would be expected to be able to place in your attorney.

However, after hearing this prosecutor’s response to a member of the public I deem it proper to set the record straight right now. After I told my attorney I would allow the witness to testify via zoom despite my constitutional rights, my attorney left me to relay that to the judge and prosecutor. When she returned, she told me that the prosecutor said the witness wouldn’t be prepared anyway, even via zoom.

Now, take a closer look. Here’s the prosecutor coming out with this particular response at this time, blaming me for the delay as if it’s been me causing delays all along. Where was their response to explain delays when members of the public inquired about due process in my case before? Now suddenly they have an answer for this particular delay, when they claim it’s my doing, but couldn’t speak to any of the previous ones.

Also, I hear that they make it a business to try to, I guess, “put my past on blast.” Are they saying that because of the past I don’t deserve to be treated fairly in the now? Surely your own tactics condemn you. They should have picked better people to write a response. I’ve never claimed to be an angel, and that’s why I can speak knowledgeably about this system.

I’m a product of the state’s upbringing. That’s who raised me, from foster care through juvenile detention centers—not for a crime, but for running away from abusive foster care—to prison at 17. So if the prosecutor wishes to paint me as a bad person for my past, then by fact the system itself is acknowledging how messed up it is, because it made me.

But because I am more than what this system tried to make me, because I rose above my past, yep, their records show all the bad things because those are the only records they keep for a Black person. But if you go to Black Ink you will be able to see who I am, because I came home and was putting in the work that bespeaks what is inside of me, what kind of person I am.

I didn’t live in the Green any longer, they weren’t trying to evict me, but I still showed up when ownership and management were unjustly trying to evict people. When I saw that a place filled with children living in an area where they were taking away any and all ways for kids to have something to do, denying them access to outside water spouts, and telling people they couldn’t buy their own air conditioners when weather conditions were extreme heat, I showed up to fight for them, to organize for them, to help educate them, and to put an end to it.

Me, the guy the prosecution tries to paint as having a sketchy past, I am more than the past. I am more than what they raised me to be, in spite of what they tried to make me—a broken child, turned into a broken adult. No, I refused to be broken and am the kind of person who chose to stop them from doing it to other little Black children.

I didn’t see anyone from the prosecutor’s office out there at the Green, at any of the many events we organized to stop that kind of treatment of people.

When members of the public raise questions about due process, the very fact that the prosecution is responding with a smear campaign against me that highlights my past convictions and my untried charges as a means of justification for their actions for the past 16 months, and as justification for broken promises from Eli Savit, shows the manipulative ways of our prosecutors. There’s a saying that goes like this: “When you have the facts, use the facts; when you have the truth, use the truth; when you don’t have the truth or the facts, assassinate the character of your opponent.” Clearly the last one is the tactic being used here by the prosecution.

One thing I know, though, I don’t need to worry about which one of us—the system trying to paint me as unworthy of fair treatment, or myself—looks worse. I could never compare to the atrocities that the prosecutors and police have under their belts in their history, so like my mom used to tell me, don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house. Yeah, I was convicted of crimes by you, paid the price you set for them, came home in spite of that, and still came out trying to help others.

So go ahead and keep trying to paint me as a bad person because of my past. The more you say what I used to be, the further it shows how far I’ve come. But mister prosecutor, your justification can’t be the things that you’ve already convicted me of and I paid the price for. If that’s your position, then surely you condemn yourself as biased at the least against those previously convicted of crimes, and if biased, unfit to sit in that seat.

And if the past tells the story of who we are today, then surely prosecutors and police damn sure are the worst amongst us, what does their past say? Thanks, though, for letting me know you’re listening. Be sure that when you think to try to expose someone else, you don’t get caught standing there naked.

Really for me it’s a moot point. In two weeks we go back, and I’m telling everyone right now I won’t be postponing for any reason on February 14th. You can see the corruptness of this system as a whole in this petty game they are playing, but also the callousness that is permeating throughout this system. Just keep watching, and really try to understand what this is like for those dependent on me, as well as myself personally, living under the ever changing and evolving slave codes.

Maybe we are reaching for the wrong audience. Maybe it’s governors who we should be seeking relief from. It may be too late in my case, but ending this foul practice of holding people on parole holds with endless delays without recourse could and would help so many others facing this cruel, systemically racist and discriminatory practice. Endless holds were already deemed unjust, thus the creation of the 180-day rule in the first place.

Those with enough money to afford private attorneys are skating through this same system. By statistics alone we know it affects more Black people. The disproportionate amount of Black people locked up compared to white people, and the amount of white people with private attorneys compared to Black people, alone create a racial quality to this situation.

Where there is the least appearance of impropriety, where there is the smallest hint of racial inequality in the legal system, where the power lies to constitutionally create and run slave plantations (prisons), is where we must meet this evil. We can’t let it fester any longer. Let’s reach out to governors, let’s see if we can effect change that way. Since they are acting powerless at the county level, let’s rise above. Because therein lies the real just cause.

Armani Shabazz Update

In this electrified age of pandemic pressures, everyone has suffered hardships. The unexpected calamities that have plagued society have left most shell shocked and perpetually struggling to recover. It seems as if every facet of life has been affected. Businesses short staffed, public welfare jeopardized by a breath, not enough people, not enough supplies, and not a whole lot of solutions. Overall, though, people are persevering and trying to address the issues as they arise. That is, everywhere except for the judicial system. Everywhere from the courts to the MDOC is using this pandemic to abuse its discretion.

 As has happened since my last article concerning Armani Shabazz. For those who don’t know Armani’s situation, to sum it up, he has been waiting for a year to have a parole revocation hearing after beating his original case. I wrote an article about it recently, and I guess it must have had an impact with someone because the next day he was given a notice stating they intended to prosecute him on three new gun charges. This is stemming from an incident where, according to Shabazz, they planted a gun on him inside of quarantine. Let me explain so you can see the totality of what they are alleging.

 On January 7, 2021, Shabazz was arrested for an outstanding warrant by MDOC’s parole absconder unit and the Pittsfield Township police. He was frisked and placed in a van and taken straight to MDOC’s “Reception and Guidance Center” (RG&C in Jackson) where he went through three check points. At each check point he was frisked, strip searched, and patted down. Never once was a gun found.

 Now in order for you to understand how messed up it is what they are trying to do to Shabazz, I have to show you the set up once you arrive at RG&C. First, every county brings in multiple prisoners, as well as the absconder units. What that means is on any given day 30 to 40 prisoners are brought to intake where Shabazz was processed. You are strip searched, then all your belongings are searched and placed in a bag which is placed in a room waiting to be mailed out. The room where this occurs is the same room where all prisoners brought in have their pictures taken and are processed into the facility. Shabazz was then placed in a holding cell waiting for his turn to be processed in. He was called for processing, asked if he wanted to send his property home or throw it away, and he elected to send it home. He could have easily said to throw it away, which anyone who knew they had a gun in their property would have obviously done. At that point, while the officer was taking the stuff from the bag for searching, he allegedly discovered a handgun in Armani’s property.

 Shabazz vehemently denies possessing the weapon, and asserts that staff failed in their responsibility to find it on someone else somewhere along the way and just blamed Armani. I find it highly suspect that Armani wasn’t charged with these allegations for a whole year, and then right after the article fronting off the abuses of discretion of Armani’s due process rights, they all of sudden choose to charge him. This is clearly malicious retaliation, and shows how the courts and the MDOC conspire together when needed to shut down any challenges to their abuses.

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