I Want To Tell You A Story . . . About Ricky Jackson. Once upon a time . . .

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source credit: abcnews  Ricky Jackson on the right and one brother, Wiley Bridgeman on the left. Ronnie Bridgemen was paroled in 2003

 
Ricky Jackson, 59, is sprawled across a leather couch in the basement of his house in Chesterland, Ohio. “I intend to live well,” Jackson continues. ( This article is abbreviated) “I’m not going to waste it by holding grudges.” Not that anyone would blame him. Beginning at age 18, Jackson spent 39 years in a prison for a crime he did not commit – the longest prison term for an exonerated defendant in American history, and a staggering example of how the criminal justice system can wrong the innocent.

In 1975, after returning home after an honorable discharge from the qqqqMarines for medical reasons, he and two friends were arrested for killing Harold Franks outside a neighborhood convenience store. According to police, a pair of assailants splashed acid in his face, clubbed him, shot him several times, stole $425 and fled.

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source credit:  abcnews

The weapon was never found. Jackson and his friends said they were elsewhere. But police obtained a statement from 12 year old Eddie Vernon who told police Jackson fired the weapon and the other two young men doused him with acid and stole his car. But Eddie’s statement was shaky. He couldn’t identify the suspects in a line up and several classmates said he was nowhere near the crime scene. Still, three separate juries accepted the youngster’s account. All three were convicted and sentenced to die by the electric chair.

Before it could take place, Ohio took away the death penalty and the sentences were changed to life in prison, which in itself is a death sentence. Jackson spent his life reading, giving himself his own education. He studied everything from gardening to refereeing basketball. He found solace in the prison library. He wrote letters – to journalists, filmmakers and anyone who might be interested in his case. In 2012 The Scene – a Cleveland magazine published an article about the frail nature of Jackson’s conviction that condemned him. He was connected to the Ohio Innocence Project by minister of that now grown 12 year old boy Eddie Vernon who had testified against him. He said he was coerced by the police to give it. They threatened to arrest his parents if he didn’t give the statement. His mother was sick and he was afraid. When he became ill himself he could no longer live with what he had done. Ricky said there is no anger. He was just a scared young boy. In 2014 the charges were dismissed. But that can not give the time back. Time stands still in prison. Very little changes. “It was overwhelming being out after all that time. He received less than a million dollars for the loss of his life. He bought a house and began the process of building a life with a fiancée’ and her children.

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But what does that mean when compared to losing everything his life could have been from before he was even able to vote? Youth being coerced by police without a parent or attorney present has come under scrutiny lately. Cops have bragged they can get a confession out of anyone for anything by wearing them down after many hours of interrogation. All they have to do is tell them what they want to hear and they will let them go home.

I read this story today in an article in the 2017 JAN/FEB issue of the Smithsonian magazine, written by Matthew Shaer. It is impossible for me to read the life stories of people who were destroyed by our justice system run by human beings who don’t care about the lives and families they destroy – on purpose –  getting away with coercing false information that should never hold up in court. It almost didn’t for Jackson.  It took three (probably white) juries to finally hand down the death penalty, letting the real murderer off the hook. Did he kill again? Did he commit more crimes? Why didn’t Ricky Jackson’s life matter? Why didn’t the truth matter? Given the number of predominantly black men who are eventually set free, apparently truth in our justice system doesn’t mean much. Truth also has a price tag –  if you can afford to pay it.

Black people’s lives obviously don’t have the same value as white people since they represent only 13% of the American population but 58% of the people incarcerated. If you still want to believe somehow that blacks are inferior or have a genetic predisposition toward crime then count yourself among those who are racist. It is people like this who strove to lock up as many blacks as possible because after reading and believing what our government wanted you to believe you never looked any further to find the truth.  In the last 40 years our prison population more than quadrupled.

Didn’t it ever seem odd that black people suddenly became so dangerous? Even though heroin was predominantly a white man’s drug, it was the black man to fear? More crack cocaine has been used by whites than blacks, unless you believes the media. Over all drugs have been used equally by whites and blacks but because there are more whites than blacks in the population why weren’t more white people locked up?

Did you know, in Virginia in 1856 , there was only one offense a white man could be given for the death penalty – ONE – but there were 66 offenses choir which a black man could be given the death penalty. Mississippi had 38 offenses for blacks and one for whites. Today it often happens that sentencing is less harsh for whites for many different crimes.

When Black Lives Matter became a household phrase, white people got defensive and said All Lives Matter. Black people have been trying to get that across for many generations but it mattered little to the court system. All lives have always mattered. Where was everyone’s sense of correct judgement towards blacks for all these years? Why is there a belief in white privilege, based only on the color of one’s skin?

Then it became Blue Lives Matter. They had always mattered, until it didn’t matter when they recklessly killed black citizens, because they could, and didn’t have to pay the consequences. Unfortunately, what they lost had farther reaching affects than the relative few who were killed, and I’m not belittleing those deaths; they lost the respect of many Americans because they were allowed to be above the law. No one is above the law. Not even our president.

Police are no longer seen the same way as other protectors, the way we see firemen and ambulance EMTs. Police are instead feared because many are corrupt and behave as legal criminals. Children have to be taught how to interact with cops so they don’t hurt them. Black men have to fear being shot and killed. Why is this? Because this is what many cops have done and it has ruined the reputations of all of them.

Now that you hopefully understand, if you already didn’t. I’m now going to get back to my story . . .

You tell me if you think Ricky Jackson rightfully lost 39 years of his life, or if a racially prejudiced court didn’t care about finding the right murderer. How would you have felt? Would his being black be enough for you to think he should lose his life? If the answer today would be no, what will you do today to help change things for other human beings in the same situation? Or would you stay quiet? Would you at the very least share this story with others? It takes people standing up to change things, otherwise nothing changes. Is that acceptable?

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