Dixon’s case gained national attention when he was profiled six years ago by Golf Digest for his meticulous attention to detail in the colored-pencil drawings he made of courses such as Augusta National — despite never having picked up a club in his life.
“They always say I don’t need to be drawing this golf stuff,” he has said. “I know it makes no sense, but for some reason my spirit is attuned to this game.”
From there, the publication and several other groups — including the Georgetown University Prison Reform Project — began looking into the questionable circumstances surrounding his conviction.
The first book John Bunn fell in love with, curled up in his cell at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, was Sister Souljah‘s novel “The Coldest Winter Ever.”
In the book, a maternal woman advocates for the improvement of her black community in Brooklyn as she watches the people she loves suffer from the consequences of incarceration, violence and a seemingly endless cycle of poverty. “I related to that book on so many levels,” Bunn says.
Bunn knows more than most what it’s like to face injustice. Arrested and imprisoned as an adolescent in New York City, he spent 17 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and a further decade on parole, fighting for his exoneration. In that time, he battled, among others, the courts, police investigators, PTSD and the challenges of illiteracy. He was 16 before he could read and write.
Today Bunn is 41 and a free man at last, mentoring at-risk young people and advocating for the power of reading through his own program that brings books to prisons.
In many ways, his own story sounds straight out of a Sister Souljah book. Except that Bunn, who survived years of wrongful incarceration with his humanity intact, is determined to write the next chapter himself.
Bunn’s ordeal began on August 14, 1991, when he was sitting in the kitchen of his mother’s apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was 90 degrees in the shade and the AC was broken. Outside he could hear hip-hop music playing from passing cars and the thwack of basketballs on pavement as kids made their way to the courts. Bunn’s mother, Maureen, was making pancakes, his two-year-old sister, India, cooing in her high chair.
Bunn, 14 years old and out of school for the summer, was ready for a typical day of playing ball and demonstrating his famous back flips in and around the four-block radius between the apartment on Ralph Street (his mom) and the house on St Marks (his grandma). Those four blocks, snug between the love of the two women who raised him, were his whole world.
But then, a bang on the door. It was the police. “They wanted to take me down to the police station for questioning,” Bunn recalls now, sitting in that same small apartment festooned with family photos, nearly three decades later. He was taken to Brooklyn’s 77th precinct, put in a room and handcuffed to a pole.
“The interrogation was led by a detective by the name of Louis Scarcella. And he was threatening me, telling me that I was never coming home if I wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know. He also told me that they already had beat up my co-defendant, that they had slammed his head into a wall and they already had him,” he recalls.
The co-defendant? A 17-year-old Brooklyn boy named Rosean Hargrave. Bunn knew Hargrave “from the block,” although he and the older boy were never more than acquaintances. But, as he soon found out, they were both now suspected of the same crime:
The killing of an off-duty Rikers Island corrections officer named Rolando Neischer. “I kept telling them, “No, I didn’t have any knowledge of it,” Bunn recalls. But Detective Scarcella, who worked in the Brooklyn North homicide unit for years before retiring in 1999, told the young John he did not believe him.
Bunn’s eyes fill with tears as he describes the moment he was placed in a police lineup with “grown men.” As an adult, Bunn, a slight man with a gentle disposition and a shy smile, stands only 5 feet 6 inches. At 14, he estimates he was no taller than 5-foot-2. He was so much smaller than the adults he was lined up with that the detectives had to improvise. They brought in stools so the lineup could be done sitting down. Bunn did what he was told. He sat down and held up a number.
A couple of minutes later, Scarcella came back into the room. “He told me, ‘It was my lucky day,’ that I got picked,” Bunn says, grimacing. “Ever since then, I’ve been fighting to prove my innocence,” he says, wiping his face and adjusting his hat.
On the front of his baseball cap, in bold white letters, are the words, “WRONGFULLY CONVICTED. On the side, “VICTIMS OF DETECTIVE LOUIS SCARCELLA.”
WarnerMedia, the parent company of Hollywood studio Warner Bros., announced Wednesday a company-wide policy aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera. The initiative, established in partnership with actor Michael B. Jordan, is to apply to all productions going forward, beginning with Jordan’s “Just Mercy.”
“The WarnerMedia family has introduced an approach that accomplishes our shared objectives, and I applaud them for taking this enormous step forward,” Jordan said in a statement. “I’m proud that our film, ‘Just Mercy,’ will be the first to formally represent the future we have been working toward, together. This is a legacy-bearing moment.”
Since April Reign and #OscarsSoWhite took over headlines beginning in 2014, the entertainment industry has openly grappled with calls for more accurate and representative portrayals of more communities.
But it was, for many, Frances McDormand’s fiery speech at the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony (she won an Oscar for her lead role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) highlighting the concept of inclusion riders that drove some people to action.
(First coined by Stacy Smith, director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an inclusion rider is a provision that can be placed in stars’ contracts to mandate equity in casting and beyond.)
“Inclusivity has always been a no-brainer for me, especially as a black man in this business,” Jordan said. “[But] it wasn’t until Frances McDormand spoke the two words that set the industry on fire — inclusion rider — that I realized we could standardize this practice. It allowed me to formally pledge my production company, Outlier Society, to a way of doing business.”
WarnerMedia’s policy, which will also apply to HBO and Turner, focuses on having women, people of color, members of LGBTQ communities, folks with disabilities and other underrepresented groups in greater numbers in front of and behind the camera.
Along with the help of his agent, Phillip Sun at WME, Jordan worked with WarnerMedia to launch the policy with “Just Mercy.” Jordan is also an executive producer on the film, which is set to begin production in Atlanta this week.
“I’m proud that Warner Bros., and our sister companies HBO and Turner, are willing to state unequivocally that this is where we stand on diversity and inclusion,” Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros.’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement.
“Our policy commits us to taking concrete action to further our goals, to measure the outcomes and to share the results publicly,” he added. “I’m also thrilled that we were able to work with Michael B. Jordan to craft a meaningful policy and framework that will apply to all of our productions, across all of our divisions, going forward.”
Though the policy as written does not include specifics, the company does commit to “in the early stages of the production process, [engaging] with our writers, producers and directors to create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects, with the goal of providing opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups at all levels.”
“And, we will issue an annual report on our progress,” it said.
“Just Mercy” is a legal drama about a gifted young lawyer’s defense of the most vulnerable in this country and his fight for equal justice in a flawed legal system. It’s based on the book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.
According to hollywoodreporter.com, Nike unveiled the face of its campaign celebrating 30 years of its “Just do it” campaign – none other than that of Colin Kaepernick. In the ad, the former NFL quarterback is looking at the camera, and printed over the image is: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt.”
Kaepernick has been a Nike athlete since 2011, but the Super Bowl QB has not played on a team since 2016. Kaepernick created a national firestorm when he began kneeling during the National Anthem in an effort to protest African-American inequality and police brutality in America. Since then, a number of players on all teams have kneeled or raised a fist during the anthem for the same protest.
Last season, as the debate over protesting was burning ever hotter, the NFL and the NFL Players Association defended the right for those who wanted to protest peacefully.
According to bleacherreport.com, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the Niners in March 2017 and hasn’t been able to find a new team since. An April visit with the Seattle Seahawks was postponed after he did not assure the franchise he’d stand for the anthem if signed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL Media about the decision he made in 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The 30-year-old quarterback filed a collusion grievance against the league, which claimed he was being kept out of the league because of the protests he started. His argument received a boost last week when arbitrator Stephen B. Burbank ruled there was enough evidence to require a full hearing.
Meanwhile, NFL owners approved anthem rules in May that would force players to stand if they are on the field or they must remain in the locker room during the anthem. Teams with players who did not comply with the new policy would be subject to league fines, and teams could also hand out individual punishments. Those guidelines are on hold, however, as discussions between the NFL and the players’ union continue with the 2018 season set to start this Thursday.
The NFL suffered a stunning blow Thursday when an arbitrator ruled that there is enough evidence in the grievance case of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to send it to a full hearing.
Arbitrator Stephen Burbank denied the NFL’s request for summary judgment and a dismissal of the case, an eye-opening ruling that allows Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the league to continue. Burbank now will hold a full hearing, possibly before the end of the year, and issue a final ruling.
Kaepernick has been a polarizing figure since he began protesting social injustices by kneeling during the national anthem two years ago. Kaepernick’s representatives, led by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, filed a suit against the league in October, contending that NFL teams and their owners have conspired to keep him from working in the league since he left the 49ers on March 2, 2017.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said last year he knows why Kaepernick is still unemployed. “What is it about?” he said. “It’s not about football or color. It’s about, ‘Boy, stay in your place.’ ”
Burbank’s ruling now puts the image-conscious NFL under a bigger, more public microscope. NFL owners, coaches and executives will face more intense questioning and cross-examinations in the trial-like setting of a full arbitrator’s hearing than they did in depositions.
Some of the league’s heavy hitters already have been deposed in the case: Commissioner Roger Goodell, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh were all questioned with Kaepernick present.
Before a gag order was issued in the case, Goodell denied there was a concerted effort to keep Kaepernick sidelined. “Those are football decisions that each team has to make and what they think are the right ways to make their football teams better,” Goodell said.
In arguing to dismiss the case, the NFL contended that Kaepernick’s attorneys had not met the burden of proof stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players association.
The arbitrator’s ruling did not surprise Stanford law professor William Gould, but he said it does indicate Kaepernick has a substantial case. “You would anticipate that given the fact that there have been many depositions taken that there would be issues of fact here, which could possibly allow Kaepernick to prevail,” Gould said.
Gould added that Kaepernick’s legal team still faces real hurdles at the full hearing. “He will have to most likely through trial-like proceedings meet his burden, which is to show through a preponderance of evidence that collusion exists,” Gould said. “And it’s a tough burden in a case like this because the agreement explicitly says you can’t rely simply upon the fact that other players with dissimilar qualifications were picked by clubs for the vacancies that were available.
“We know that Jay Cutler was chosen by Miami,” he added. “He was booed out of Chicago. Surely Kaepernick was preferable to him, and I think that’s the case, but that alone will not carry the day for Kaepernick.”
Kaepernick, aside from holding Know Your Rights camps for inner-city youths, has maintained a low profile. When approached May 8 by this news organization following a workout with Reid at Cal State East Bay in Hayward, Kaepernick said: “We’re not doing interviews. We’re just here getting in a workout.”
Kaepernick won 28 of 58 games as the 49ers starter, first seizing that role during the 2012 season en route to a berth in Super Bowl XLVII, where the 49ers fell to the Ravens. He was 4-2 in playoff action.
Staff writer Cam Inman contributed to this report.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a landmark bill today to overhaul the state’s money-bail system, replacing it with one that grants judges greater power to decide who should remain incarcerated ahead of trial.
The two-year effort fulfills a pledge made by Brown last year when he stalled negotiations over the ambitious legislation, saying he would continue to work with lawmakers and the state’s top Supreme Court justice on the right approach to change the system. The new law puts California at the forefront of a national push to stop courts from imposing a heavy financial burden on defendants before they have faced a jury.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” he said in a statement.
Senate Bill 10 would virtually eliminate the payment of money as a condition of release. Under last-minute changes, judges would have greater power to decide which people are a danger to the community and should be held without any possibility of release in a practice known as “preventive detention.”
Top state officials, judges, probation officers and other proponents of the efforts lauded the new law. Co-authors Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) called it a transformative day for criminal justice, and a shift away from a pretrial system based on wealth to one focused on public safety.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who helped craft the legislation through the formation of a judicial task force that spent a year studying the issue, described a three-branch solution to address a money-bail system that “was outdated, unsafe and unfair.”
“A person’s checking account balance should never determine how they are treated under the law,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
But the historic passage of the bill has been bittersweet for lawmakers, as opponents — including some of the bill’s most ardent former supporters — argued the final version of the legislation would allow judges to incarcerate more people based on subjective criteria, and did not include enough oversight over risk-assessment tools found to be biased against communities of color.
“No one should be in jail because they are too poor to afford bail, but neither should they be torn apart from their family because of unjust preventative detention,” said a statement from American Civil Liberties Union directors Abdi Soltani in Northern California, Hector Villagra in Southern California and Norma Chávez Peterson, representing San Diego and Imperial counties.
California’s bail system has long been ripe for reform, both Democrats and Republicans agreed. Under the current system, bail is set according to a list of fixed fees that depend on the gravity of the crime and often vary widely by county.
Offenders are required to post the amount upfront, or pay a 10% fee — like a down payment — to a bond company before they are released on bail. Those who can’t afford the fee can remain incarcerated up to an additional 48 hours, or longer on weekends or holidays, before they are formally charged and arraigned.
Voting rights activists in Georgia say they will launch a petition drive in an effort to collect enough signatures of registered voters to block a proposal to close more than two-thirds of polling precincts in a predominantly black county ahead of this fall’s general election.
The plan to shutter the voting sites in Randolph County, a rural community about 2½ hours south of Atlanta, has been drawn dozens of local residents and progressive groups to two public hearings in recent days. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a formal protest with the county’s board of elections.
Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, which oversees elections operations throughout the state, has issued a statement urging Randolph County officials to “abandon this effort.” Kemp also is the Republican nominee in one of the country’s most-watched gubernatorial contests. The Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator, is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor.
The two-member county election board – a third member stepped down recently – has scheduled a vote for Friday on the proposal to shutter seven of the county’s nine polling places, citing problems including facilities in disrepair or inaccessible to persons with disabilities. But some activists are suspicious of the board’s motives, noting that Randolph County is 60 percent black and many residents have low incomes. The county, which covers 431 square miles, has no public transportation system.
All nine of the polling places were used for the May primaries and less than a month ago for statewide run-offs, in which Kemp, helped by an endorsement from President Donald Trump, beat Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the GOP nomination.
Local news outlets reported heated discussions at meetings on Thursday and Friday, with residents and activists alleging the move was aimed at suppressing turnout in the county, in which more than 55 percent of the voters are black and have backed Democratic candidates in statewide elections.
County officials and a consultant hired by local officials said the closures were necessary because the sites were not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and there was not time to fix them before the Nov. 6 general election. They also suggested that affected residents could vote by absentee ballot.
“You don’t solve problems of accessibility for people with disabilities by reducing access for people without disabilities,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the Georgia ACLU, which wrote a letter to the board stating that the closures would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it would have a negative effect on African-American voters. The group noted that African-Americans make up more than 96 percent of the voters at one of the polling places slated for closure.
Unsure if the board will be persuaded by the arguments for keeping the polling places open, some activists will try to stop the plan by using a state law that forbids the closure of voting sites if 20 percent of the registered voters in the affected precinct object to the change. The county currently has just over 4,000 registered voters.
Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration and education group, said activists will begin collecting signatures Sunday, spreading the word at morning church services.
“We want to see to it that the hundreds of students we registered at Andrew College and the people we’ve registered in Randolph are able to exercise their sacred, fundamental right to vote,” Ufot said. The goal is to submit the petition before the board’s scheduled Friday vote.
A similar petition drive overturned a decision two years ago by elections officials in Macon-Bibb County to relocate a polling place from a school to the sheriff’s office.
“These polling place closures are part of a stark pattern that we are seeing across Georgia whereby officials are working to make it harder for African Americans and other minorities to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The more communities mobilize to turn out the vote, the harsher the voter suppression efforts undertaken by officials. We are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to ensure that African American voters are able to have meaningful access to the polls this election cycle.”
Monsanto suffered a major blow with a jury ruling that the company was liable for a terminally ill man’s cancer, awarding him $289 million in damages.
Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a huge victory in the landmark case on Friday, with the jury determining that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer and that the corporation failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure. The jury further found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression”.
Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of a month-long trial in San Francisco that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product. Johnson was the first person to take the agrochemical corporation to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the brand Roundup causes cancer.
In the extraordinary verdict, which Monsanto said it intends to appeal, the jury ruled that the company was responsible for “negligent failure” and knew or should have known that its product was “dangerous”.
“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that … Roundup could cause cancer,” Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner said in a statement. The verdict, he added, sent a “message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits”.
Speaking in San Francisco on Friday, Johnson said that the jury’s verdict is far bigger than his lawsuit. He said he hopes the case bolsters the thousands of similar lawsuits pending against the company and brings national attention to the issue.
Johnson’s case was particularly significant because a judge allowed his team to present scientific arguments. The dispute centered on glyphosate, which is the world’s most widely used herbicide. The verdict came a month after a federal judge ruled that cancer survivors or relatives of the deceased could bring similar claims forward in another trial.
During the lengthy trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys brought forward internal emails from Monsanto executives that they said demonstrated how the corporation repeatedly ignored experts’ warnings, sought favorable scientific analyses and helped to “ghostwrite” research that encouraged continued usage.
After a two-year process, Oregon State University President Ed Ray announced recently that he has chosen new monikers for three university buildings whose previous namesakes have ties to historical racist positions or beliefs.
OSU’s Benton Hall will become Community Hall, honoring local residents who raised funds to start the college in 1860s and 1870s; Benton Annex, the university’s women center, will become the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center, after an African-American suffragette who lived in Portland in the early 20th century; and Avery Lodge will be renamed Champinefu Lodge, borrowing a word signifying “at the place of the blue elderberry” from the dialect of the local native Kalapuya Tribe.
“The names of buildings and places play a very important role in our university,” Ray said Monday in a prepared statement. “They speak to the history of OSU, the university’s values and mission, and our efforts to create an inclusive community for all. Names also recognize and honor the positive contributions of those associated with the university.”
The changes follow a push that has occurred across the country in recent years to proactively remove names and take down statues that honor people who held overtly racist views, in the name of improving race relations. Those efforts have faced blow-back from people who argue that they erase history and punish historical figures for views that were widely held during their lifetimes.
Ray decided last November that the building names associated with former Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and Corvallis co-founder Joseph C. Avery should be stripped from the buildings, following community input and scholarly research into their positions.
An architect of the United States westward expansion and backer of the Manifest Destiny, Benton “supported federal legislation to remove Native Americans from their tribal lands and, while he was opposed to extending slavery into western states, he was not in favor of abolishing slavery elsewhere,” Ray wrote last November.
While the 1947 naming of Benton Hall was designed to honor Benton County residents, not Thomas Benton, Ray determined that the hall’s name didn’t make that distinction clear. Joseph Avery, meanwhile, pushed “views and political engagement in the 1850s to advance slavery in Oregon (that) are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values,” Ray wrote, making the 1966 name untenable.
Ray decided against renaming OSU’s Gill Coliseum and the Arnold Dining Center, however, after ruling that their namesakes, Benjamin Lee Arnold and Amory Gill, displayed some signs of forward-thinking racial acceptance, outweighing the more controversial parts of their biographies.
The new names announced Monday were chosen by Ray, after receiving input from OSU faculty, students and leaders of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
Champinefu, which is pronounced CHOM-pin-A-foo, was chosen because Native Americans of the Kalapuya Tribe traveled to the area around Corvallis to harvest wild blue elderberries.
Hattie Redmond, meanwhile, was part of the successful push in 1912 to give women the right to vote in Oregon, after voters previously had rejected it five times. According to the Oregon Historical Society, Redmond’s role was little known and not celebrated until 2012, when details of her biography were discovered during the centennial celebration of woman suffrage in Oregon. Redmond, the daughter of slaves, moved to Portland in 1880, in an era when the state still had a black exclusion law in its constitution. Redmond was the president of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage Association during the 1912 campaign and organized meetings and educational lectures on the issue in a local church.
“Live free or die” were Solitude’s last words when she was executed for her involvement in the 1802 slave rebellion in Guadeloupe.
Born in slavery in the plantations of Guadeloupe in 1772, Solitude’s father was a French sailor and her mother was an African woman who was reportedly raped during a voyage on the slave ship.
A beautiful woman with a brown skin and charming eyes which were of different colouration, Solitude was admired by many. When her mother fled the plantation where she was enslaved, Solitude was left all alone with her enslavers.
Slavery was abolished in 1794 in the French colonies due to the Haitian slave revolt. The French government took that move in order to avoid a generalized slave revolt in all its colonies.
But eight years after the abolition, Napoleon Bonaparte restored slavery in the French colonies and sent about 3,500 troops led by General Antoine Richepance to Guadeloupe to enforce that decree.
Solitude was freed in the first abolition of 1794, but after Napoleon’s decree, she was classified as a “maroon” and joined a group of freedom fighters that were led by men such as Louis Delgrès, Ignace, Paleme and Jacquet.
They organized as a small army and fought against the French troops. On May 10, 1802, Delgrès launched a proclamation entitled “To the whole universe, the last cry of innocence and despair”.
Solitude, though a few months pregnant, joined this fight against Richepance’s troops. She was said to be a fierce and fearless warrior who “pushed herself and her belly into the heart of the battles” at Dole, Trou-aux-chiens, Fond-Bananier, and Capesterre.
“From victory to victory, and then from setback to setback, she pushed herself and her womb all the way up into the mountains before the final defeat,” according to accounts. After eighteen days of combat, Richepance’s side overpowered the rebels and Delgrès and his comrades died in an explosion.
Solitude got injured in the explosion and was captured and sentenced to death. But since the child in her womb was to become the property of her slave owner, she was temporarily pardoned and her execution was rescheduled to the day after the birth.
She gave birth on November 28, 1802, and on the morning of the following day, the greatest heroine of the revolution, who was now 30 years, stepped out of jail peacefully while, according to accounts, maternity’s milk slowly stained her nightshirt.
She was then executed with no one knowing the whereabouts of her child.
Solitude has since been described as the symbol of Caribbean women who fought to protect the ideals of equality and freedom. Her name is still on the lips of many, and now graces squares and avenues in Guadeloupe. According to accounts, she has also been featured in a poem, a song, a library, and a museum room.
A statue honouring Solitude was erected in 1999 in the community called les Abymes (Guadeloupe).