“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…” – US Constitution 1789 (rev. 1992)
Unlike either the First Amendment that protects our right to free speech or the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms, the Sixth Amendment, rarely if ever garners the national spotlight relative to its value to people of color or our democracy.
While our Constitution guarantees the right to a “speedy and public trial,” Kharon Torchee Davis-imprisoned in Dothan, Alabama, has yet to experience either a trial or an opportunity for bail. Tears building in her eyes, his mother Chrycynthia Davis asks unabashedly “Is this America?”
Benard Simelton (Courtesy Photo)
Her tears are more normal than rare in parts of the South, where local law and customs built on centuries of racism and the clandestine yet invisible chains used by racists to undermine the equal application of law.
America with over 2 million people locked up in a variety of ways, remains the world’s leading prison nation. On any given day, nearly half a million are being held in limbo – in pretrial detention where they are neither guilty or innocent, simply held without a trial due to court inefficiencies, inability to pay bail or times as a strategy to affect their eventual trial.
Of those two million people locked up, nearly three-fourths are held in state and local jails and 60 percent have not been convicted of anything. How the world’s greatest democracy exists as the world’s greatest prison nation, remains an enigma wrapped within a quandary.
The supporters of Kharon Davis are hopeful that after a decade of being incarcerated without a trial, he’ll finally receive a fair trial sometime in mid-September. Accused of capital murder – a crime which he vehemently claims innocence – Davis, like many individuals held for years without a trial, waits for the simple opportunity to exercise the rights guaranteed him by our nation’s constitution.
For 23 hours, a day he is held in solitary confinement at the Houston County Jail in Dothan, Alabama. His own mother has been banned from visiting him. Every day he is mentally tortured and forced to live in conditions that are unthinkably horrific. The intimidation tactics go as far as this: Davis was forced to move to the cell where Martez Dozier was hanged on Halloween 2015 – the placement happened just one day after Dozier’s death.
After the NAACP intervened and tried to facilitate a meeting between him and his mother, Davis was punished and told that the NAACP did not run the jail. Prosecutors want him to succumb to a plea bargain, therefore, the system has turned a blind eye to the cruelty and terrorization he is forced to endure.
Conflicts of interest from both the arresting officer and Davis’ former attorney coupled with failed attempts to gather evidence are cited as reasons as to why Davis’ chances at a fair trial have been stalled for so long. However, those familiar with the case know that the Dothan Police Department and the Houston County criminal justice system are both notorious for their blatant disregard of human and civil rights. It is widely known in the area, both by victims and by the officials themselves, that the constitution does not apply in Dothan.
This August, we witnessed yet another on-screen adaptation of our broken criminal justice system in the feature length movie, “Crown Heights.” The film tells the story of Trinidadian immigrant, Colin Warner, who served 21 years in jail (four of which were in solitary confinement) for the murder of a teenage boy – a person he’d never even met. Sentenced to a maximum-security prison for a minimum of 15 years, together he and his childhood friend studied the law and made several failed attempts to appeal the case until they finally succeed in exonerating Warner.
But must it take the showmanship of Hollywood to draw attention to the defunct legal system that is decimating the futures of our Black and brown communities? We can no longer wait for our men of color to turn into hashtags or movie before we start to speak up.
Neither can we depend on President Trump nor U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to help clean up the judicial system. Despite Dothan being in Sessions’ own back yard, it appears he is more concerned with eliminating consent decrees, ignoring voter suppression or providing military-weaponry to police and pulling back on civil rights protections, than to address the failures of the system.
The NAACP is not here to determine guilt or innocence, but is committed to ensuring that Kharon Davis receives a fair trial by a jury of his peers. This case is merely the tip of the iceberg of injustices that disproportionately impact people of color in Alabama and the nation. We say stay woke, pay attention and take action.
Benard Simelton is the President of the NAACP’s Alabama State Conference.