Social Justice Requires a Defender General to End the Apartheid that is Our Justice System

by, “Antonio”

I am not one of the countless black, brown, or poor people in this country who was wrongfully convicted. I did commit my crime. My name is Antonio, and I spent 29 years in prison. 

I believe the outcome would have been different had I been white and not poor. 

At 15 years old, I became homeless, living on the streets of Chicago after running away from another state to escape the violent and abusive man I called my father.

I met a 45yearold man in Chicago who took me in under the presumption that he would help me and be a friend. The price of his help was sexual assault and abuse. I would later learn that he was a known child molester. When I could no longer stomach his actions, I decided while he was out to take what I needed to leave and live on the streets again. Unfortunately, he returned unexpectedly and caught me stealing from him. We got into a physical altercation, and it ended with his death.  I was charged as an adult with murder and transferred to adult court, facing a natural life sentence. Like many young black men across this country, I could not afford private counsel. My Public Defender was a hardworking and knowledgeable lawyer who wanted the best for me. I believe most Public Defenders fight hard for their clients. Yet, the playing field is uneven. Public Defenders often lack experience and they lack the essential tools to investigate, research, and hire expert witnesses to prove all the elements impacting the case. The Public Defender offices are known to reduce their overburdened caseload by encouraging a plea, which is exactly what happened to me. 

The current overincarceration of poor, black, and brown people stems from the lack of funding and training and violates the fundamental rights of underserved individuals. 

 Understanding today, as a grown man, my journey of abuse, homelessness, incarceration, and meeting so many people like me while incarcerated, I believe the system is lopsided to the point of being unethical. 

While fighting my case through the courts, I learned that the State had enormous resources to obtain a conviction and a lengthy prison sentence.  State and Federal prosecutor’s financial advantage is considerable. The State often wins cases not because the defendant is guilty of the crimes, but because historically, black and brown defendants do not have the opportunities privileged people receive. 

 The system doesn’t care about the challenges of my childhood, not that I was a homeless child, or abused, nor did the system care whether I received legal appropriate legal representation. 

 Having a Defender General of the United States would level the playing field.  I would not have a murder conviction if the standard of care provided an opportunity to argue self defense and more.  An independent Defender General of the United States would build trust, so that all people can be confident that fair representation is available. It is time to end the apartheid that is our system of justice.

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