The actions that led to a travesty of justice for Johnnie Mae Chappell are different from those that led to the travesty of justice for the five Central Park jogger suspects. But, injustice is injustice.
Ms. Chappell, a Black woman in Du Val County, Fla., was shot and killed in 1964 by a group of White men in a drive-by shooting. While looking for a wallet that she lost on her return from the store, the group of White men rode past and fired at Ms. Chappell and her friends.
The Central Park jogger suspects–Yusef Salaam, Kharey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray–were Black youths when they were convicted of raping and robbing a White woman jogging in the New York City park.
Of the four White men involved in the murder of the Black woman, only one was charged and convicted of a lesser manslaughter charge, and he only served three years of a 10-year sentence. In that case, we have learned of an alleged cover-up that involved local law officials in Du Val County, the F.B.I., two grand juries and a federal grand jury.
In the New York case, the Black men were convicted of rape and assault. But there also was a miscarriage of justice here. It has been revealed that the confessions from the young boys at the time were coerced or gained through trickery of law enforcement officials. A report arguing that all charges against the five be dropped–issued by the office of N.Y. District Attorney Robert Morgantheau–also says the confessions were full of discrepancies and errors regarding the time, place and process of the rape, and even who was involved.
The D.A. said the defense attorneys in two trials failed to exploit weaknesses in the case, such as the evidence was never corroborated, DNA evidence did not link the teens to the jogger, and the inconsistencies in their descriptions of the woman’s clothing and injuries, the weapons used and other details.
The saving grace for the five in the jogger case is the confession of Matias Reyes, who said he alone committed the crime. His DNA was confirmed to be on the victim, who recovered from her injuries.
The saving grace for Ms. Chappell is the conscience of a former detective with the Du Val County Sheriff’s Dept., who lost his job at the time because he wanted the Chappell case investigated. The case has gained new momentum because he recently wrote to President Bush–who has agreed to look into the case–exposing the broad cover-up.
The sad fact about these cases is that Black life in America, even in the Black community, is devalued more than any other group. The young men who were innocent in the jogger case, nevertheless implied that they had been involved in other criminal activities at the time. These activities undoubtedly impacted Black people.
This devaluation of Black life perhaps explains why the defense can feel comfortable about putting up a weak case. Perhaps that’s why even the D.A., in its report arguing for dismissal of the charges, offered no apologies for the miscarriage of justice to the men, nor did they cite or criticize the people responsible.
Perhaps that’s why two grand juries, a federal grand jury, law officials in Du Val County, Fla., and the F.B.I. discarded the evidence in the Chappell case.
It’s the price we pay to live while Black in America.