By Lauren E. Williams, Special to the AFRO
On May 31, TVOne held a private screening of its newest series, “Evidence of Innocence,” at the Internet & Television Association’s movie theater in Washington, D.C. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring acclaimed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also served as a narrator for the series.
Other panelists present to shed light on wrongful convictions and inequities in America’s criminal justice system were Rushion McDonald, executive producer of the new series; Tia A. Smith, executive in charge of production and senior director of programming and production for TVOne; Chanta Parker, special counsel for new initiatives for the Innocence Project; Mike Fletcher, senior contributor for ESPN’s The Undefeated and Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice. The panel was moderated by Roland Martin.
From left to right: Rushion McDonald, executive producer of the new series; Tia A. Smith, executive in charge of production and senior director of programming and production for TVOne; and Ben Crump, noted civil rights attorney.
Airing every Monday in June, “Evidence of Innocence” is a four-part limited series aimed at raising awareness about inequities within America’s criminal justice system. It is a hour-long crime documentary that tells uplifting, yet unknown, stories of individuals who were convicted of offenses they did not commit and the journey they endured to obtain justice and get their lives back. The victims highlighted in the show include Lisa Roberts, Richard Miles, Melanie Ware, and Mark Schand.
“We not only show the injustices, we also let them speak in first person telling their own stories so that you would know this comes from them,” Smith told the audience of about 30. “It was important for us to show the resilience of everyone that participated with this which is so synonymous with our community and culture.”
While there are four voices featured on TVOne’s new series, statistics show these voices are far from being alone. According to a 2017 report by the National Registry of Exonerations, a total of 166 wrongly convicted people were declared innocent in 2016. And TIME Magazine reported, on average, there are more than three exonerations per week—more than double the rate in 2011.
Also alarming is the racial disparities found in wrongful convictions. According to the same report, while African Americans make up only 13% of population, they constituted 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations as of October 2016.
“Go into any courtroom in America, sit in the back of it and you will see justice is anything but equal,” Crump told a crowd following the screening. “We have to acknowledge that they want to justify or legitimize putting Black and Brown bodies in the prison industrial complex. Now with this administration – I thank God for TVOne – for putting out a counter narrative out there. We have Jeff Sessions in the Department of Justice saying ‘let’s do the most that we can do to put people in prison.’ So, I thank God for this show at this time in America.”