ORLANDO, Fla. – The criminal justice system is an integral part of our society but it’s not without its faults.
While acknowledging the flaws is the first step, it will take more than that to spark real change and create a system that’s fair and equal to all of its participants, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.
News 6 wants to be part of the solution, that’s why we hosted Real Talk: A Candid Conversation on criminal justice reform from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 23.
You can rewatch the entire discussion in the media player below:
Our panel of experts discussed sentencing disparities, wrongful convictions, mass incarceration and more as they examined the issues surrounding our criminal justice system not just today, but for decades.
One of the earliest examples comes by way of the Groveland Four. While the four young Black men were wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury of raping a white teenage in 1949, Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin weren’t pardoned until recently.
Of the four, Thomas was hunted down by a posse of 1,000 men and shot more than 400 times while the other three were arrested. When a re-trial was ordered in 1951, the sheriff of Lake County at the time shot Shepherd and Irvin while they were handcuffed, killing Shepherd.
Irvin and Greenlee were eventually paroled more than a decade after they were convicted.
Fast forward and we’re still seeing equally as abhorrent miscarriages of justice.
According to the NAA, one out of every three Black boys today can expect to be sentenced to prison compared to one out of every six Latino boys and one out of every 17 white boys.
To put it into perspective further, numbers provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that on Dec. 31, 2018, the most recent date for which figures were available, 45,735 of Florida’s 97,538 state and federal prisoners, or about 47%, were Black while 39,167 were white and 12,239 were Hispanic.
Keep in mind that U.S. Census Bureau lists about 17% of Florida’s population as being Black. The state’s Caucasian population sits at 77%.
But we’re not just seeing Black people imprisoned at a higher rate, many people have been quick to point out that people of color don’t receive the same types of sentences when compared to their white counterparts.
One such case is that of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student who got a six-month sentence, of which he served three months, for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The maximum for that crime is 14 years and prosecutors were pushing for six.
Online, the case has drawn parallels to the one involving University of Kansas student Albert Wilson who was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after a mostly white and mostly female jury found him guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl he met at a bar near campus, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
The newspaper reports that Wilson admitted to kissing the girl but said they never had sex. Additionally, a rape kit conducted at a hospital turned up no pubic hair or bodily secretions.
An effort is underway to get Wilson’s name cleared. Like Turner, he had no prior criminal history.
These are just a few high-profile instances of why reforming our critical justice system is a critical issue. We know you, our News 6 viewers, will have even more.
That’s why we’re inviting you to take part in the discussion. Viewers were able to submit their questions for our panelists: Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, author Agnes Gomillion, Florida Right Restoration Coalition president Desmond Meade and attorney Mark O’Mara.
To keep up with our series of candid conversations, go to ClickOrlando.com/RealTalk.