Sunday, April 05, 2009

Payback Time

The record of Dallas in incarcerating the innocent led to embarrassment that probably was a large part of the reason a decent District Attorney, Craig Watkins, was elected. This is a subject I've covered several times before. Blogging and other forms of publicity about the crimes of the city has had several epochal results.

DA Watkins opened DNA records to Project Innocence. In turn the records research led to exonerations of 19 prisoners who had been imprisoned although they were innocent. The releases of those innocents brought attention from a whole nation, most especially those of good conscience. In the ultimately idyllic Rube Goldberg effect, that has led now to such a revulsion against the crimes officialdom had committed, that new legislation is working in the Texas legislature toward correcting those wrongs. Some even goes so far as to redeem the state to some extent by attempting to return some of their destroyed lives to the victims.

The cause of criminal justice reform made important headway in Austin last week, evidence that lawmakers are sobered by Texas' distinction as the leading state for DNA exonerations.

It was striking that key bills that would strengthen the justice system cleared a Senate committee with no votes cast against them. We encourage lawmakers to keep up the momentum.

One of the bills, by Sen. Royce West of Dallas, confronts the cruel reality that innocent men have been freed after years – even decades – in prison with no preparation for a radically changed free world.

The legislation sees to it that these men receive medical, psychological and rehabilitative help to reestablish themselves. They currently receive compensation money, but that doesn't fully repay the debt to these men robbed of their freedom and dignity. The state should provide a hand up as well.

That debt is especially acute in Dallas County, which leads the nation with 19 exonerations proven up by DNA tests.

Just as important for lawmakers is guarding against future miscarriage of justice. Two bills that cleared committee unanimously address core weaknesses revealed by DNA exonerations. One would require police agencies to adopt written policies for photo lineups that conform to best practices set out by a panel of experts. The other pushes investigators to record interviews with eyewitnesses.

The power of public opinion has been successfully unleashed and should continue to be brought to bear on people's elected representatives to overturn these injustices.

It would appear from recent events with respect to this injustice by the system, and overreaching CEO's in the financial industry, that public opinion can be an increasingly great force for good. There is absolutely no excuse for failing to condemn injustices that cry out to be corrected, and crimes that should be punished. Yes, you will hear more from this blog about the need to punish war crimes, too.

I suspect that the right wing in mobilizing its grassroots may have led to its own overthrow, as it seems that having come into the public realm those common folks are no longer able to avoid seeing the crimes of those they supported. I suspect they increasingly are offended by, and beginning to mobilize against, The Base.

Avedon's proposed logo of crossed pitchfork and torch may be the sign of these times.

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Anonymous larry, dfh said...

The movie 'After Innocence' covers the post-release world of people exonarated of murder. A very big hurdle for these unfortunate people is getting the murder conviction expunged. No kidding. Although they were found innocent of committing murder, they were still, at one time, convicted. And this record is not automatically removed on release. Sad.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

In the case of those completely exonerated, that is a crime in itself. There is no excuse for letting that happen.

6:32 AM  

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