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"I Didn't Know What the Sky Looked Like Any More": Ricky Jackson Exonerated After 39 Years in Jail

Democracy Now - Wed 07 44 AM

An Ohio man has been freed from prison after spending 39 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Ricky Jackson, a 59-year old African-American man, had been jailed since 1975 on a murder conviction. The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of a 13-year-old witness. After a 2011 investigation, the witness recanted his testimony, saying he had implicated Jackson and two others under police coercion. The witness, Eddy Vernon, said police had fed him the story and threatened to arrest his parents if he didn’t cooperate. On Friday, Ricky Jackson was freed after prosecutors dropped the case. With nearly four decades wrongfully behind bars, Jackson is the longest-held U.S. prisoner to be exonerated. He joins us today along with his lawyer, Brian Howe, a staff attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project.

Mississippi Burning: As Ferguson Erupts, Obama Honors Civil Rights Activists Slain By Klan in 1964

Democracy Now - Wed 07 37 AM

At the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony on Monday, President Obama honored James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, the three civil rights workers who were killed 50 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan after traveling to Mississippi to register black voters. "In that Freedom Summer, these three Americans refused to sit on the sidelines," Obama said. "Their brutal murder by a gang of Ku Klux Klan members shook the conscience of our nation. It took 44 days to find their bodies, 41 years to bring the lead perpetrator to justice." We also play an excerpt from the film, "Neshoba: The Price of Freedom."

Rev. Sharpton: Legacy of Civil Rights Movement Shows Need for Feds to Bring Justice if State Fails

Democracy Now - Wed 07 26 AM

On Tuesday, the family of Michael Brown held a press conference at a church not far from Ferguson. Michael Brown Sr. was present but did not speak. He wore a red St. Louis baseball cap similar to the one his son had on when he was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, and a t-shirt that read, "No Justice, No Peace." The Brown family’s attorney Benjamin Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton criticized St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s handling of the grand jury process. At the news conference, Amy Goodman asked Rev. Al Sharpton about whether authorities let parts of Ferguson burn on Monday night. She also asked about the three slain civil rights workers awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, and whether that case offers hope for federal charges against Wilson.

"This Country Values Property Over People": Ferguson Activist Speaks Out as Protests Spread

Democracy Now - Wed 07 12 AM

Protests are set to begin for a third day in a row in Ferguson, Missouri over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deployed more than 2,000 National Guardsmen to patrol the St. Louis area. Police repeatedly fired smoke bombs and tear gas to scatter protesters gathered near Ferguson City Hall. Police said 44 people were arrested. Meanwhile demonstrations over the Michael Brown case spread across the country from Los Angeles to New York. We go to Ferguson to speak with Tory Russell, one of the founders of the group Hands Up United and a member of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle.

Riot as the Language of the Unheard: Ferguson Protests Set to Continue In Fight For Racial Justice

Democracy Now - Tue 07 43 AM

"It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard." Those were the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in March 1968, weeks before he was assassinated. Today parts of Ferguson are still burning after a night of protests following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown. At least a dozen shops in the Ferguson area have been broken into and burned. A number of businesses burned for hours before firefighters arrived. We speak to Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Jelani Cobb, director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut and a contributor to the New Yorker. "For over 100 days [the protesters in Ferguson] have been primarily nonviolent in their approach to this," Sekou says. "They gave the system a chance, and the system broke their heart."

"It is Officially Open Season on Black Folks": Legal Expert Decries Handling of Wilson Grand Jury

Democracy Now - Tue 07 33 AM

On Monday St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury had found "that no probable cause exists" to charge Officer Darren Wilson with any crime in the death of Michael Brown. The jury deliberated for three months and heard dozens of hours of testimony, including from Wilson himself. But did they hear the full story? McCulloch himself had faced public scrutiny throughout the grand jury investigation, with calls for him to resign over allegations of a pro-police bias and questions raised about an unusual grand jury process that resembled a trial. We speak to Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is just back from Ferguson. "I don’t think we can take away anything from this decision not to indict other than that it is now officially open season on black folks when it comes to police violence," Warren says.

Black Lives Matter: Ferguson Erupts After Grand Jury Clears Officer in Michael Brown Killing

Democracy Now - Tue 07 11 AM

A grand jury in St. Louis, Missouri has chosen not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. The decision follows three months of deliberation by the jury of nine whites and three blacks, including four hours of testimony from Wilson himself. The grand jury decision set off outrage in Ferguson and communities across the country who see Brown’s killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color. In a statement, the Brown family said: "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions." We hear from St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and go to the streets of Ferguson where Amy Goodman interviewed protesters last night.

Longest-Serving U.S. Prisoner in Solitary Ordered Free Again, But State Obstruction Bars His Release

Democracy Now - Mon 07 46 AM

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther who has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, longer than any prisoner in the United States. Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, another prisoner of the "Angola 3," were convicted of murdering a guard at Angola Prison. The Angola 3 and their supporters say they were framed for their political activism. A federal judge ruled last year that Woodfox should be set free on the basis of racial discrimination in his retrial. It was the third time Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned, but prosecutors have negated the victories with a series of appeals. Thursday’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order for Woodfox’s release in a unanimous decision. But prosecutors could still delay its enforcement with more appeals to keep Woodfox behind bars. We are joined by two guests: Robert King, a member of the Angola 3 who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit; and Carine Williams, a lawyer for Albert Woodfox with the firm Squire Patton Boggs.

After Vowing to End Combat Mission in Afghanistan, Obama Secretly Extends America's Longest War

Democracy Now - Mon 07 18 AM

President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war. According to the New York Times, Obama has signed a classified order that ensures U.S. troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And, under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize U.S. air-strikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani has also backed an expanded U.S. military role. Ghani, who took office in September, has also reportedly lifted limits on U.S. airstrikes and joint raids that his predecessor Hamid Karzai had put in place. We go to Kabul to speak with Dr. Hakim, a peace activist and physician who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. We are also joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who has just returned from Afghanistan.

Viggo Mortensen Helps Mark 10 Years of Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History"

Democracy Now - Fri 07 45 AM

Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of "Voices of a People’s History of the United States," based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book "A People’s History of the United States" — which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of "Voices," which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. Mortensen, an Academy Award-nominated actor whose credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has appeared in numerous performances of "Voices" and is a cast member of the television documentary version, "The People Speak." He joins us along with Anthony Arnove to discuss the 10th anniversary of "Voices" and its continued political relevance today.

Food Chains: New Film Tracks How Immokalee Workers Won Fair Wages from Corporate Giants

Democracy Now - Fri 07 34 AM

Opening today around the U.S., the new film "Food Chains" documents the groundbreaking partnership between farm workers, Florida tomato farmers and some of the largest fast-food and grocery chains in the world. We are joined by one of the film’s key players, Gerardo Reyes-Chávez, a farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Reyes-Chávez has helped lead the group’s success getting 12 corporations to join their Fair Food Program — including McDonald’s, Taco Bell and, most recently, the retail giant Wal-Mart. Participants agree to pay a premium for the tomatoes in order to support a "penny per pound" bonus that is then paid to the tomato pickers. Soon, the Fair Food label will appear on Florida tomatoes at participating stores.

As Mexicans Protest US-Fueled Drug War, Sanctuary Movement Backs Church Refuge for the Undocumented

Democracy Now - Fri 07 24 AM

People from around the world joined a day of action on Thursday to demand justice for the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa teacher’s college who have been missing since September following a police attack. Earlier this month authorities said two suspects had confessed to killing the students and incinerating their bodies, leading investigators to badly burned remains, which are still being analyzed. Outrage erupted across Mexico Thursday, as caravans of the missing students’ families and classmates converged in Mexico City. Tens of thousands rallied in the main square, and a 30-foot effigy of President Enrique Peña Nieto was set on fire. We are joined by one of the organizers of the day’s events, Juan Carlos Ruiz, a priest and community activist who serves as immigration liaison with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Ruiz is also one of the co-founders of the New Sanctuary Movement, which supports immigrants across the country who have taken refuge in churches to avoid deportation.

Obama's Action Marks Historic Victory for Immigrant Rights, But Activists Warn of a Long Way to Go

Democracy Now - Fri 07 09 AM

In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action granting temporary legal status to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation. Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they have lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. The executive order will also not provide undocumented immigrants any formal, lasting legal status. Many will receive work permits, which will give them Social Security numbers and the ability to work under their own names. But they will have to reapply after three years. We get analysis from Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan González, who watched the speech with a large group of undocumented immigrants Thursday night. We are also joined from Seattle by a family team of activists: Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, and her daughter, Josefina Mora, a U.S. citizen.

"Just Mercy": Bryan Stevenson on Ferguson, Prison Reform & Why the Opposite of Poverty is Justice

Democracy Now - Thu 07 44 AM

As Ferguson awaits the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri, we speak to attorney Bryan Stevenson, author of the new book, "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption." With growing focus on the failures of the criminal justice system, Stevenson has been fighting those injustices case by case. He is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a group based in Alabama that represents some of this country’s most marginalized people — the poor and the wrongfully convicted. Stevenson has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court six times. In 2012, he won a landmark Supreme Court case that barred states from giving mandatory life sentences without parole to children. The Nobel Prize-winning South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called Stevenson "America’s young Mandela." Others have compared him to Atticus Finch, the fearless, fictional hero of Harper Lee’s seminal novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Stevenson’s book tells many stories, but focuses in particular on his battle to free an African-American man named Walter McMillian, who was falsely convicted and condemned to die for killing a white woman in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Stevenson joins us to discuss his work, the situation in Ferguson, and why he argues that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice.

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest: New Film Captures Florida Prisoner's Shocking Ordeal Behind Bars

Democracy Now - Thu 07 26 AM

We look at the shocking case of Mark DeFriest, known as the Houdini of Florida prisons because he has tried to escape 13 times — seven of them successfully. In 1979, DeFriest’s father died and left him a set of tools. He picked them up before they were probated. The teenager was arrested for stealing and sentenced to four years in prison. Thirty-four years later he is still there, having spent 27 of those years in solitary. He spent much of it in the notorious “X wing” of Florida State Prison, where he went for years without seeing the sun. We are joined by Gabriel London, director of the new film about the case, "The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest."

From Hottest October to Coldest November, Is Climate Change Behind the Extreme Weather?

Democracy Now - Thu 07 11 AM

Record cold temperatures have been recorded across the country this week. The most extreme weather is hitting western New York, where at least seven people have died. At least six feet of snow has already fallen on parts of Buffalo, and another two to three feet is expected today. Tuesday was the coldest November morning in the country since 1976. Temperatures dropped below freezing in every state including parts of Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday. This comes just days after NASA reported last month was the warmest October on record. We look at the link between extreme weather and climate change with Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate.