May 26, 2008

Free At Last

Flanked by a family member on the left and Innocence Project attorney Barry Scheck on the right, Walter Swift looks out at the world from the steps of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 as a free man. Swift was freed after spending 26 years in jail for a rape he didn't commit.

I'm interested in solutions for black America. Clearly, reform of the justice system in this country is needful, because Walter's story occurs too often. And for every Swift that the Innocence Project frees, there are another 20 or more that never get the light of justice shined on their situation. The Innocence Project worked for 11 years to free Swift. 11 damn years. The man languished in prison for a decade before someone began to look into his case, and another decade of his life came and went in prison while the battle was fought. Its a terrible injustice. The Innocence Project isn't just working on the cases of the wrongly convicted, they have also assembled information about the kinds of policy reforms which would reduce the number of people who are wrongly convicted in the first place.

The reforms that can address and prevent wrongful convictions include: As always, when I look at whats needed to bring about real, lasting changes on substantive issues, I'm struck by the fact that the work that must be done is tedious, costly and decidedly unsexy. Its not marches or protests (they have their place), its organization, fund raising and long term activism to marshal people power and deploy human and political capital. The issues above don't get solved or fixed without hard, dogged effort over time.

Walter Swift hugs his daughter Audrey Kelly Mills, 27. She was an infant when Walter went to prison. He has not seen or touched her during her life until the day this picture was taken.

Visit the Innocence Project. Learn more about the issues and get involved. Because God forbid that you or I or someone we love should ever need an Innocence Project in the first place.