A feature on The Innocence Project.
“I did seven and a half years [including time spent detained during the trial], for something I didn’t do, and I just can’t get over it.” When I read these words of Antron McCray, 1/5 of the “Central Park Five,” in a May 2019 New York Times article, I was touched. This is the very thing I struggled to grasp when I first watched The Central Park Five documentary co-directed by Ken Burns in 2012-the fact that five children spent years in prison for a crime they simply did not commit. As I watched Ava DuVernay’s 2019 mini-series, “When They See Us”, the most affecting thing I have ever watched, the same question still lingered in my mind: How could this have happened? The Netflix original series has sparked a range of emotions including pain, anger and fear. Amidst the emotions that many who have watched the harrowing series have felt, some have decided to take action including Emmy-winning actress, Niecy Nash, who played the mother of Korey Wise, another of the five boys. After playing the role which she implied was life-changing, Nash joined the likes of Busta Rhymes, Chris Martin, Yvonne Orji and Zooey Deschanel as an ambassador of The Innocence Project, an organisation that works tirelessly to free the innocent.
Founded in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck , The Innocence Project aims to exonerate the wrongfully imprisoned through DNA testing. While the Legal & Intake departments of The Innocence Project are responsible for client representation and research, the Strategic Litigation department aims to nip the problem in the bud by working to decipher and raise awareness on the key causes of wrongful conviction. Another key department is the Policy department which advocates for the passing of laws to prevent groundless conviction and undeserved imprisonment, and in the events where these occur, laws that would ensure legal compensation of the victims. As one can imagine, such miscarriage of justice upsets the lives of the wrongfully incarcerated; the Social Work department provides support for exonerees as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives after prison. Due to the laudable work of this organisation, 365 innocent people have been exonerated including Keith Allen Harward and Malcolm Alexander who spent 33 years and 38 years in prison, respectively.
I know that after watching When They See Us, some people felt helpless. They were very much angered by how a justice system failed Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Raymond Santana, but they were at a loss concerning what to do moving forward. I am elated that the stories of these men are being told-their stories of injustice, suffering, and in the words of Korey Wise, overcoming. Yet, hearing their stories reminds me of others like them, innocent humans who are currently in prison, and the thought of this does not sit well with my spirit. I decided to shed light on The Innocence Project and the very important work that they do incase anyone reads this and is moved to help. A law course I took during the summer of 2017 exposed me to their incredible cause, and the organisation has been imprinted in my heart since then. Inspired by their work and the works of individuals such as Van Jones, Bryan Stevenson and Kim Kardashian West, my main inspiration behind wanting to pursue Human Rights Law is to help get people out of prison. I know Law is not for everyone so perhaps donating towards their cause is another option, but I understand if donating any amount of money is currently out of the question for you. Having said that, I ask you to kindly remember this cause when you are in a position to help (if you are moved to support it), and to remember these words of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter in a 2017 interview with Dean P. Baquet: until everyone is free, no one is free.
I featured The Innocence Project based on my familiarity with it as I mentioned in my
article above. There are other organisations including Exonerated Nation that advocate the same cause. You may want to learn more about those and/ or support those, or even support one that advocates this cause in your country. Also, you may not be moved to support this cause at all. I write this piece, and I will shed light on more causes in the future, just so that we are conscious of what goes on in the world we live in, and so that we can help if we are able to.