Georgia march demands:
Free Genarlow Wilson!
Many call for release of other
unjustly imprisoned Black youth
July 14 march in Douglasville, Georgia, protested harsh sentencing of African Americans.
BY BILL ARTH
DOUGLASVILLE, Georgia, July 14More than 2,000 people marched today in this small town 30 miles west of Atlanta to demand freedom for Genarlow Wilson. The action helped shine a spotlight on the disproportionate imprisonment and harsh criminal sentencing of African Americans.
Wilson, 21, has served nearly three years of a 10 year sentence. He and five other 17-year-oldsknown as the Douglasville Sixwere arrested in 2003 after police found a videotape of them having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old classmate. At the time, Georgia law deemed oral sex with a minor aggravated child molestationa felony with a 10-year minimum sentencewhile intercourse is misdemeanor statutory rape.
Conviction on this charge includes lifelong registration as a sex offender.
The West Metro branch of the NAACP organized the march, which began at the Douglas County High School and ended at the county courthouse. The big majority of participants were Black. In addition to local residents, hundreds came from the Atlanta metropolitan area. Many said they had heard about the protest on Black radio stations.
They came to demand Wilsons freedom, but also to protest the racist criminal justice system. Many came to raise other cases of injustice.
My son was 18. Now 33. Judge Emerson and David McDade gave my son 20 plus 7 years. More time than a mass murderer. Like any other mom, I want justice, read a hand-made sign carried by Virginia Allen, mother of Tracey Allen. She said her son, who had no prior convictions, has spent 15 years in jail after having been convicted for being an unarmed lookout in a robbery.
Kimberly Favors is the mother of Kristopher Watts, who has been in jail since July 2006. Her sign said: Kristopher Watts. First Offender. Still sentenced 7 years w/2 years to serve in jail only for a $50 charge.
Rotunda Nelson carried a sign for her son, Wesley Babe Nelson. He was charged with armed robbery for holding up a store with a BB gun when he was 15 years old. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with a minimum of 11 years before eligibility for parole.
He made a mistake, hes not a criminal, she told the Militant. Twenty years is longer than hes been alive. He just turned 17 last Saturday. Theyre taking his life away. Her son is in the same prison as Wilson.
According to a recent study by the National Urban League, a nationwide Black rights organization, African American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white men, and almost seven times more likely to be incarcerated. Georgia had the third-highest growth rate in the United States in prison population last year. Of the 2.2 million federal, state, county, and city prisoners last year, nearly 60 percent were Black or Hispanic.
Since the Wilson case, the state legislature has changed the law, making Wilsons offense a misdemeanor with a maximum jail term of 12 months and no registry as a sex offender. The change is not retroactive, however, so Wilsons sentence stands.
While the other five young men arrested with Wilson agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence, Wilson refused.
I just could not live with myself having that label [of child molester] for the rest of my life, Wilson said in a 2006 jailhouse interview with Atlanta Magazine after his conviction. Even after serving time in prison I would have to register as a sex offender wherever I lived and if I applied for a job for the rest of my life, all for participating in a consensual sex act with a girl just two years younger than me, he said. Its a lifelong sentence in itself. I AM NOT A CHILD MOLESTER!
On June 14, Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson ruled that Genarlow Wilsons sentence violated the state constitution as cruel and unusual punishment. The judge changed Wilsons felony conviction to a misdemeanor, resentenced him to 12 months and ordered his immediate release. But state Attorney General Thurbert Baker blocked his release by announcing he would appeal the judges ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. Douglas County Superior Court Judge David Emerson then ruled that Wilson is not eligible for bond during the appeal, keeping him in jail in spite of the fact that a court ruling has overturned his conviction and sentence. The state Supreme Court will hear the appeal on July 20.
Douglas County District Attorney David McDade has spearheaded the effort to keep Wilson in prison. McDade distributed to reporters the videotape that was used as evidence in his trial. U.S. Attorney David Nahmias has since warned that possession of the tape violates federal child pornography laws. Some of Wilsons supporters are calling for charges to be filed against McDade.
Freedom for Genarlow Wilson!