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“I became a prosecutor because I hate bullies. I stopped being a prosecutor
because I hate bullies.” - Paul Butler
I cringe whenever I hear someone smugly say, “Everyone in prison says he’s (or she’s) innocent.” With few exceptions, these people have never worked with prisoners and are speaking from a place of sheer ignorance. I have worked with prisoners for over forty-five years, and my experience is that most of them own their crimes. And even when the sentence is longer and harsher than their white counterparts, black prisoners suck it up and do the time.
But what about wrongfully convicted citizens—the actual innocent ones? Who are they, and how did they get entrapped in the prison industrial complex? How were they executed with scant or conflicting evidence against them?
While there is legitimate and overwhelming evidence of the questionable role of police in the systematic and dramatic increase in the U.S. prison population, the prosecutor’s office becomes a trap door for the thousands of citizens who get thrown on its doorstep. This article will explore the corruption and criminality that is fostered by the very system that includes the word “justice” in its moniker.
I. REDEFINING PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
I believe there is a mistaken belief by the public—even by prosecutors themselves—that the job of a prosecutor is mainly to vigorously prosecute defendants. I prefer to side with the American Bar Association: “The primary duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice within the bounds of the law, not merely to convict.” I would also add they should be truth seekers. The prevailing view by those interacting with and victimized by the system is that prosecutors seek neither justice nor the truth.
I have all but ceased using the term “prosecutorial misconduct.” The phrase totally minimizes the harm done by corrupt prosecutors and their practices. Misconduct is a term best used to describe a fourth-grader who throws a spitball across the classroom. The emotional, psychological, and financial harm done to wrongfully accused, convicted, or imprisoned citizens and their families is both inexcusable and incalculable. I prefer to use the term “prosecutorial aggression.” It may be harsh, but in cases where prosecutorial corruption has led to death either by the state or by another inmate while wrongfully incarcerated, I have also accused rogue prosecutors of conspiracy to commit murder. If a layperson encouraged or participated in the planning or act of murder or attempted murder of a citizen, he or she would be charged accordingly based upon the law.
Missouri has exonerated thirty-nine men and women. I have varying levels of involvement with all of the St. Louis wrongful conviction cases of African Americans. I see the devastating impact upon their families—missing the bonding with their children, unable to participate in families gathering from births to funerals, the crushing of unfulfilled dreams, etc.
There will be some who say that it is the actions of a few bad apples in police departments or prosecutors’ offices who shatter public trust. I assert that it’s not about the atrocities of a few but the complicity of the many that is the real problem. It’s also about the incestuous relationship between police and prosecutors to engage in immoral, unethical, and criminal behavior that must be continually exposed. Law and order must be restored in these two departments because the corruption goes deep and wide.
*Jamala Rogers is a human rights educator and a long-time community organizer. She has worked tirelessly to end mass incarceration and to free the wrongfully convicted. Rogers’ contributions to peace and justice have been recognized by the Mound City Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty to name a few. She is coordinator of the Justice for Reggie Clemons Campaign. Rogers has a featured column in the award-winning newspaper The St. Louis American and writes extensively on issues of racial justice. Her latest book is Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion.