EB: The majority of black and brown people — and even poor whites — held in America’s prisons and jails are political prisoners in that they have been convicted and sentenced under a political agenda that condemns the poor for their behaviors in trying to survive.
“Little B,” Michael Lewis, was convicted as an adult when he was 14, and sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. The witnesses were all neighborhood drug dealers or addicts whom the state paid “reward” money or lighter sentences for drug charges they were facing. There was no physical evidence. He had an alibi, and there was a videotape, obscured by the prosecution for 10 years, of the victim’s two children identifying another man as the killer.
Michael has been in prison 16 years for this wrongful conviction … The United States is the only nation in the world to try children as adults. Even the child killers of Rwanda were not tried as adults but rehabilitated as children.
TR: You have lived through the age of Martin Luther King Jr. and now of President Obama, who are sometimes compared to each other. Yet you see them as diametrically opposed to each other. How?
EB: Today America is involved in war in Afghanistan, armed drones killing civilians and so-called terrorists for reasons no one can clearly identify, while the Obama administration continues Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform bill, which at once criminalized millions of poor women and their children and removed all so-called safety nets from them. We see other social programs being defunded without any real opposition from the Obama administration. The administration won’t fight to reduce mass incarceration or overturn the insidious “three strikes and you’re out” crime law …
Dr. King would be advocating forcefully against all of these policies. He denounced poverty in America, as he denounced capitalism. King understood that black people did not put themselves in this position of being oppressed, and that the system that had so enslaved and impoverished our people had to be overturned.
Leila McDowell is a freelance journalist. She also serves as managing director for Communications with Advancement Project. Follow her on Twitter.