By Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Over and over again we hear of convictions being overturned for Black men who have spent the better parts of their lives behind bars for crimes they did not commit. The reasons these men have languished in the penitentiaries of this country are multifold. In too many cases, it is inadequate counsel. In some cases, it is false confessions and the use of plea bargains. In other cases it is the improper use or flawed use of forensic science. There is eyewitness misidentification. And then there is corruption on the parts of DAs and law enforcement. But at the root of all of these inequities is racism.
In so many cases, men of color become the “easy” subjects of criminal investigations.
In so many villages, towns and hamlets across the country, it is so easy to just say “the Black guy did it.” And with law enforcement that may be stretched too thin, just lazy, or, in some instances, actually incompetent or corrupt, the easy way is the only way. And once a suspect is identified, there is no further investigation. The communities in which these men live are turned against them. They lose their jobs, their homes and sometimes their lives, in many cases even before they are charged with a crime.
So where is the justice? Organizations such as the Innocence Project have helped to exonerate hundreds of people who have been falsely accused and convicted. And statistics show, depending on the source, that between 57 percent and 70 percent of those exonerated are men of color. But the problem remains that these people are being convicted in the first place. The system needs to change so that all of those who become ensnared in the criminal justice system have a fair shot.
Currently, in the northern most region of New York, in the small town of Potsdam, N.Y., where the population of Blacks nearly hits 1.6 percent, a case is about to go to trial. The case is about the senseless murder in 2011 of a 12-year-old white boy named Garrett Phillips. On trial for this crime is Oral “Nick” Hillary, a 41-year-old former college soccer coach, a father of five who was born in Jamaica and moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., at age 16.
The case against Hillary sat on the desk of the former DA of St. Lawrence County, Nicole Duvé, for more than two years without charges being filed. During the most recent election, Duvé was defeated by Mary Rain, who based her entire campaign on “Justice for Garrett,” which indeed was just code for the prosecution of Hillary. Within months of Rain’s win, Hillary was charged with murder. A judge threw out the first case. And now Rain, who campaigned on this case, has filed new charges, and Hillary is currently set to go back to court this November.
What did Nicole Duvé know? She must have had a reason for not bringing charges against Hillary, just as the judge had enough cause to throw out the initial case.
Could it be that Hillary had two alibi witnesses or the fact that there was no DNA to connect him to the scene or the crime? Did Duvé know that he was not the killer? Could be, but Rain, who is hell-bent on a conviction and seems to ignore the facts, is continuing to pursue a case that seems to be baseless by many accounts.
But Hillary has something on his side that many do not. He has family, friends and people who believe in him so strongly that they are putting their reputations on the line and their lives at risk to stand behind him. They are working to make sure that he does not become one of those statistics of the wrongfully convicted.
Hillary has a team in place, and provided that the whole truth comes out, he will be found not guilty or the charges against him will be dropped.
Meanwhile, the killer of this little boy, Garrett Phillips, is still on the loose, and the police stopped looking after they were able to pin the murder on the Black guy. There will be no justice for Garrett until there is justice for Hillary.