The Black Lives Matter movement has been in the news for many months. The movement is not asking to be treated better than others, it is asking to be treated equally. The complaint is that there is systemic racism in our criminal justice system.
The criminal justice system does have problems that we see and read about. One problem, that is often underreported, is the innocent individual being found guilty of a crime and often incarcerated for years.
On Aug. 27, Ronnie Long was released from a state prison in North Carolina. Mr. Long was incarcerated for 44 years, after being convicted of rape and burglary in 1976. His conviction was vacated, after Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote that “a trickle of post-trial disclosures has unearthed a troubling and striking pattern of deliberate police suppression of material evidence.”
The judge was referring to evidence that was collected at the crime scene which included, 40 fingerprints, a rape kit and hair. NONE of this matched Mr. Long.
Mr. Long had been incarcerated for 30 years, before his attorneys knew of its existence.
After the evidence was known, it took another 14 years before he was released. Police and prosecutors are required by law to notify defendants if exculpatory evidence exists. Will there be any consequences for the authorities that withheld the evidence? How many people knew of the evidence? Who was the real offender, and will the authorities re-investigate?
Releasing an innocent man from incarceration is the right thing to do. However, if we do not examine how the injustice occurs, the injustices will continue. More than 850 people have been released, including 281 because of DNA evidence, since the 1980s. What is unknown, is how many others exist.
Reform within the criminal justice system is needed. However, many changes that are needed will only occur when groups and individuals can be held responsible for both their actions and their inactions.