Monday, October 20, 2008
The N & O’s proactive stand on the presidential election.. but what about other issues?
On the Sunday, October 19, 2008, editorial page of the News & Observer, was the following article: "Our Endorsement: U.S. President – It’s Obama." Now, I applaud the newspaper not because it selected Obama (which reinforces my belief that the staff at the newspaper is very intelligent), but because it made its endorsement known before the November 4th election. In other words, it acted editorially proactively.
All too often, the News & Observer editorial staff waits until after the resolution of a crisis before making its position known. This is especially evident in criminal justice cases where innocent, poor, people of color (usually) have languished in jail, convicted by the flawed and prejudicial actions of the prosecutors. Recent cases include those of Erick Daniels who was in jail for seven years (from the age of 15 to 22), or James Arthur Johnson who was incarcerated for 39 months without a trial.
Erick Daniels’s release came about only after the Independent Weekly did an in-depth cover story about the case in May 2007. And James Johnson’s release was prompted by the actions of the NAACP under Rev. Dr. William Barber. They brought the media spotlight on the case which forced the Wilson prosecutors to back-peddle. The News & Observer’s editorial staff was quick to write semi-scathing opinions after the young men were released, but it remained silent while the boys languished in jail. Had the newspaper taken a proactive stance and wrote about the injustice in these cases before the two were released, the wheels of justice might have turned sooner in their cases.
For some time now I have implored the editorial staff of the News & Observer to write about the injustice of the disbarment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. For Mr. Nifong to be the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception is totally preposterous. Especially when you take into consideration other acts of prosecutorial misconduct that are far more egregious than anything that Mr. Nifong is accused of doing. Those prosecutors, Anson District Attorney Michael Parker, Prosecutors David Hoke and Debra Graves, Prosecutors Ken Honeycutt and Scott Brewer, Durham Prosecutor Freda Black, and other North Carolina prosecutors, are responsible for many innocent people spending many years wrongfully incarcerated, and yet they are not even disciplined. The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong would, again, request that the editorial staff of the News & Observer let its position be known as to where it stands regarding the fairness of the disbarment of Mr. Nifong.
Pressing issues that the newspaper’s editorial staff should proactively make declarations about include the following:
1) The aforementioned unjust disbarment of Mike Nifong;
2) The state’s wasteful spending of money to W. David McFadyen (a prosecutor from the private sector) to conduct an investigation into the "accessory after the fact" charge against James Johnson (which is being conducted for the sole purpose of vilifying Johnson in order to help defend Prosecutor Bill Wolfe from a complaint lodged with the Bar against him by the NAACP); and
3) The failure of the family and friends to pay James Johnson the $20,000.00 reward which he earned for solving the murder, rape, and kidnapping of Brittany Willis. Because they reneged on their reward offer (in large measure, I believe, because of the actions of Wilson police and prosecutors), the use of reward money as an incentive for the public to get involved and help solve crimes is greatly diminished, in addition to being unfair to James Johnson.
To be critical of the state’s justice system is not an easy undertaking, as one risks subjecting himself/herself to retaliation from the Attorney General’s Office and other administration officials and agencies. However, I believe that the newspaper owes it to the public to protect the public by voicing its well-respected opinions on vital issues that affect the lives of all North Carolinians.