Friday, July 22, 2011

Imprisoned Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner's July 18, 2011 Message From Behind The Wall

(The following article was originally posted on Chuck Turner's blog at the United for Peace with Justice site)

Reflections from Behind the Wall
Anatomy of a FrameUp

This is the fourth installment of an eight part series in which I discuss my two and a half year experience with the Justice Department which resulted in my now being a convicted felon at the work camp of USP Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.

A) Narrative:

Riding home from the courthouse with my wife and one of my daughters after escaping the clutches of the media was a welcomed relief after my first day as an accused felon. But I couldn't escape. On the radio, the broadcaster was telling those who had heard and those who hadn't that Councilor Turner not only was arrested but also was stripped by the Council President of all his committee responsibilities and had been invited to an executive session of the City Council the following Monday. Well, at least I'll have a relatively quiet weekend to figure out what to do, I thought.

What I forgot was that the media never sleeps. When I got home, they were there and even though I wouldn't talk to them, they stayed there until all our friends had left. Bright and early the next day, they came back. Different people but with the same insistence on my answering their needs until I asked the police to put up a Do Not Cross per order of the police barrier.

Throughout the day, calls from friends and family gave needed reassurance that I continued to have their support. Particularly helpful were calls from Steve Kirshbaum, School Bus Drivers Union steward and International Action Center leader, and Aaron Tanaka, the organizer for the Boston Workers' Alliance, an organization of unemployed workers that I had helped to organize and that was operating out of my District Office. Their question was whether I wanted them to organize a rally at City Hall on Monday. My immediate response was yes.

Knowing their organizing skills, I knew that all I would have to think about for Monday was what to say at the rally. With the plan for organizing the rally in place, the strategy for dealing with the Council and the Council President was clear. Council President Feeney had invited me to an executive session of the Council which would be just the Council members, the City Clerk, and Corporation Counsel Bill Sinnott, the Mayor's lawyer, who was advising her on strategy. In that setting, I would be like a lamb being led to slaughter since the only votes I could depend on would be the votes of the three Councilors of color.

However. I had a plan B. Under the Council rules, I had a right to call for a public meeting. This would give me leverage because if Steve and Aaron could turn out my supporters, Feeeney would be psychologically intimidated and would probably cancel the meeting rather than attempt to take action against me while my supporters watched. With the sense that the tide was beginning to flow with me rather than against me, I concentrated on writing the letter to the Council President to let her know that I wanted an open meeting as well as writing a speech for the rally.

My plan was to use the rally to pick holes in the prosecution's case. The flaws were clear in the FBI affidavit that laid out their case. What better time and place to rip their case to shreds than in front of City Hall with a crowd of my supporters. However, after spending hours on Saturday and Sunday writing and rewriting my speech, my lawyers let me know in very certain terms that it was their job to defend me, not mine. Why help those who were trying to put you in jail, by showing them our key arguments, they said repeatedly.

My response was that while I understood their legal perspective, I was an elected official facing an election in less than a year. I couldn't allow the media to try to convict me in the court of public opinion and keep quiet. That would be tantamount to saying that I was guilty and conceding defeat in the election. One of the reasons for my popularity was that I had always spoken truth to power. I could not ask people to believe that I was innocent and to vote for me despite the charges while saying that I couldn't talk about the case on advice of Council. Their response, I reasoned, would be that I must be guilty if I wasn't willing to talk about the case.

Thus on the evening of November 23, 2008 began the great debate between myself and my lawyers that didn't end until October 25, 2010 when I took the stand to testify in my own defense. There are many who were close to that debate who will say that I am at USP Hazelton today not because of the skills of my prosecutor or the strength of their case but because I refused to follow my lawyer's advice and keep my mouth shut. In all candor, I have to admit that they might be right. However, as I said on a number of occasions, I would rather go to jail than stop living by my principles which required that I speak out in my own defense. I couldn't give up my integrity even if it meant that I had to go to jail. That's the way I felt two and a half years ago. Today, I continue to believe that I did the right thing even though I sit here, a convicted felon at the beginning of my three year sentence.

While I believed I couldn't sacrifice my principles, I had to recognize the logic of their argument and began to walk a tight rope that I hoped would take me to a not guilty verdict. So I changed the speech to focus more on the politics of my situation rather than the specifics of the case. Even with that compromise, Terri and my lawyers warned me that the prosecutors would be listening to my every word and would try to use what I said against me at every possible opportunity. They were right. Almost every time I went to court, the prosecutors would make some reference to what I was saying in the court of public opinion as you will see as I proceed to describe what happened in my almost three year struggle with the Justice Department.

The next day at City Hall was a blur of activity: Reporters demanding their pound of flesh; friends and supporters coming and calling to wish me well; discussions with staff about next steps to make sure our constituents' needs were being met, despite my problems. Then at 1:15, an excited staff member rushed into the office to say that our strategy of holding a rally at City Hall before the Council meeting had worked. Council President Feeney, seeing my supporters beginning to gather for the rally and having seen my letter asking for an open meeting announced at her press conference that she was canceling the Council meeting "in the interests of public safety." She said that she would wait until a grand jury indictment before deciding her next steps.

At 2:25, joined by Terri and friends, I proceeded down stairs to the rally. While I had heard reports of growing numbers, I had decided to wait until the rally to go to the plaza. As I neared the doors leading to City Hall Plaza, I was literally amazed. Knowing the skills of those organizing the rally, I had expected a good turnout. I was not expecting to see the plaza filled with young and old; black, white, Latino, Asian, Cape Verdean looking faces-a virtual rainbow of the city. Throughout the crowd signs in the red and white campaign colors were waving, proclaiming Support Chuck Turner: Bold, Bald, and Bright. Estimates were that over 500 people came to support me that Monday afternoon.

Looking at the magnificent turnout, all I could say was Thank You God. I knew that the physical work had been done by Steve, Aaron, and a myriad of others. I also knew that this out pouring of love and support was based on the spirit in the hearts of people moving them to come to my defense in my greatest moment of need. Naturally, I began my speech by announcing that their presence had brought our first victory--the cancellation of the hearing by Council President Feeney. However, I reminded them that winning a battle does not end a war and that I would continue to need their support during the coming months and possibly years as the legal process worked its way through the courts.

I called attention to the fact that I had not even been indicted by the grand jury and yet the media was finding me guilty. What happened to the alleged right in this country for a person to be considered innocent until convicted by a jury of his or her peers. I said that I was not going to stand by while the media worked to convince the public of my guilt even before my lawyers had seen the alleged evidence. I declared that while my lawyers would defend me in the court of laws, I would from this day forth be my own lawyer in the court of public opinion.

In closing, I reminded them that we had to keep the faith as we had in the past and must in the future, that the righteousness of our cause would carry us ultimately to victory. We had to understand that behind the clouds that have and will continue to darken our path the sun always shines, leading us to victory. I also warned them that the police were waiting inside City Hall to make Councilor Feeney's prophecy of a disturbance at City Hall a reality and asked every one to go back to the community and spread the word that I was inviting people to join me at my community office in two days, the day before Thanksgiving to discuss our next steps. (That was the rally that I discussed in Installment 1).

A month later, a week after my December 10th indictment, Council President Feeney announced that she had hired a prominent Boston lawyer who had been a judge magistrate to act as a fact finder in my case. She didn't announce that the Mayor had agreed to let her use City money to pay him at the rate of $500 an hour. When I saw the report in the paper, I said to some friends that I knew that the Mayor didn't want me around but I didn't think he was willing to pay that much. I guess I was having more impact than I thought.

At the next Council meeting, I argued that the process the Council President was initiating would jeopardize my right to a fair trial in federal court. For the Council President to pay a fact finder to try to gather "evidence" that could be used against me in a Council process would put me on trial in front of the Council before my trial in federal court had begun. How would my lawyer be involved in this process, I questioned? Without my lawyer's involvement, it would be in effect a kangaroo court. At the end of my presentation, the presiding officer, Council President Feeney, moved on to the next issue.

Despite the controversy regarding the Mayor's authorizing $500 an hour for the fact finder. Council President Feeney did not relent. Then on January 5, 2009, two significant events took place that dramatically changed the situation. First, at ten a.m. that morning the City Council voted to elect Mike Ross, district Councilor representing Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and Mission Hill, City Council President. That afternoon Assistant US Attorney John McNeil, representing US Attorney Sullivan, filed a motion in federal court asking Judge Magistrate Hillman to require that I sign what he called a protective order and I called a "gag" order, requiring that I and my lawyers agree not to talk in public about any of their evidence before receiving it.

McNeil had asked in December that I sign such an order which I refused to do for a number of reasons. Since Sullivan had released on the day of my arrest, "photographic evidence of my guilt", taken by his agent, I thought it ridiculous that I should sign away my right to do the same if I chose. In addition, at a time when people were questioning Feeney's efforts to oust me from the Council when she was under investigation herself, Sullivan released a conversation between the Senator and Council President where Feeney challenged the Senator's maneuvers. Obviously, this was designed to take suspicion away from her. I also had heard that my prosecutor, McNeil, was preparing to release information to the fact finder. So as I said, it seemed ridiculous to agree to a standard that they were not willing to follow.

Also, since I was planning to run for City Council the following November and knew my constituents would expect me to talk about the case, I didn't want to put myself in a position where I would have to worry that anything I said about my innocence and Sullivan's frame-up could be connected to the "evidence" and subject me to another arrest, jail time, and forfeiture of the bail bond. The third reason was that it seemed to me that they were asking me to give up my First Amendment rights which I would not do.

The action by McNeil put a lot of stress on my legal team which will be discussed in the next installment--What First Amendment?. At the same time, it opened the door for Council President Ross to dismiss the fact finder. Since the government was barring me from discussing any of the evidence publicly, Ross reasoned that the fact finder would be similarly barred and therefore would have no ability to present information to the Council about my alleged crime. Looking ahead to the future, he proposed as part of the Council rules that if any Council member was convicted of a felony, the Council would have the right to meet and decide what action to take.

I supported Council President Ross' position. Since he had dismissed the fact finder, I realized he needed something to appease those in the court of public opinion who wanted my head. However, even if convicted I didn't think that the Council had any authority to remove me from the Council. Under state law, only if convicted and sentenced to jail would I have to vacate the seat. Nevertheless, the Council did remove me after my conviction.

An eminent, retired Boston lawyer, Chester Darling, based on his view that the Council had no legal right to remove me, volunteered to come out of retirement to represent me and to challenge the Council's action in federal court. Mark Wolf, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts federal bench accepted the case but asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to give their opinion before he makes a ruling since the case involves state election laws. We expect the SJC to have their hearing on the issue this October.

Before leaving this narrative of the Council aspect of my three year struggle, let me clarify that the Council as a body did not authorize any of Council President Feeney's actions or seem to play a role in their development. The Council President's only advisor in City Hall seemed to be Corporation Counsel Sinnott, the Mayor's lawyer. In fact, I was very pleased with the fact that the the Councilors handled a difficult situation in a very professional manner. I never felt that the accusations against me stopped them or in fact City employees from working with me on the issues and concerns of my constituents.

As expected, the three councilors of color, Charles Yancey, Felix Arroyo, and Sam Yoon were very supportive, continuing the process of our working together as Team Unity. Initially, however, I was surprised by my periodic conversations with Steve Murphy, an at large Councilor from Hyde Park. The first time we talked about the situation, he approached me and said that he really felt very sorry about what was happening. He said that his father who had been a policeman and prosecutor had told him that based on his experience, he thought that I was innocent and that he believed his father's view.

Steve and I had worked effectively together on some issues, especially discrimination against those with criminal records. We also had clashed on other issues. However, our interactions around my arrest and indictment seemed to rise above the day to day tension of Boston politics. We seemed to be able to make a human connection based on what seemed to be an empathy he felt for my dilemma. In another conversation, he said that he knew I couldn't have been involved in a conspiracy with the Senator because during the period of the alleged conspiracy, she refused to support his at large candidacy because he chaired a hearing I sponsored focusing negatively on her support for a dormitory Northeastern University wanted to build on land in our district.

B) Analysis:

1) Triple Teamed:

In installments two and three, I discussed how US prosecutors carry out doubling teaming. The most obviously instance is through their relationship with the media. As the prosecutors, they bring the evidence to the grand jury, receive the indictments, and then go to court to begin the legal process. However, often before even getting an indictment from the grand jury, they initiate the media process in the court of public opinion as they did in my case.

Thus the defendant finds himself or herself double teamed. In federal court, the defendant has to face the charges that are being brought by prosecutors with all the weapons that they have at their disposal. While in the court of public opinion, the defendant has to face the constant barrage of publicity designed to convince the public of the person's guilt long before the defendant has the ability to defend his/herself in federal court.

Yes, the judge will, when seating the jury, will try to screen out those who have formed opinions based upon the media or discussions with friends, colleagues, and/or coworkers. However, such screening is an imperfect process at best. In addition, the effect of all the negative publicity on the defendant can have a significantly negative effect on the defendants' life and circumstances long before the trial begins.

In my case, I was tripled teamed. Let me show you how the process unfolded by discussing again the day of my arrest. At 6:15 a.m., the first team, the US Attorney's special police, the FBI, accompanied by Boston police officers, came to my office to arrest me. At 7:30, the second team went into action as the media spread the stories throughout the city, state, and country that I had been arrested.

At 9:00, the quarterback, so to speak, of the first team, US Attorney Sullivan, went before the members of the second team, the media, who had been summoned to receive his statement and the "photographic evidence of my guilt" that would be spread around the nation immediately after the press conference. Thus even before my indictment, the first and second team had initiated a "full court press" so to speak focusing on my guilt.

At noon, the third team took the field as Boston City Council President announced to the members of second team that as President of the Council she was immediately suspending my City Council committee responsibilities and summoning me to an executive session of the Council on the next working day, Monday, November 24, 2008. This obviously reinforced the idea in the minds of the public that I must be guilty. If the Council immediately was taking action, then they must have been aware of Turner's corrupt activities even before his arrest.

What the public who heard her pronouncement didn't know was that Council President Feeney had not conferred with other Council members before taking action. She had, however by her own later admission, discussed the issue with William Sinnott, the Mayor's lawyer, known as the Corporation Counsel. It is also probable that they didn't know that both Council President Feeney and the Mayor at the time of my arrest were also being investigated given their involvement with the efforts to obtain a liquor license for Wilburn.

My statement that I was triple teamed is based on my belief that Council President Feeney was working closely with the US Attorney's office on the coordination of her actions against me. Given the role that Corporation Counsel Sinnott was playing with the Council President he would also have to be working with the US Attorney's office. While I am sure that the Mayor was not working directly with Sullivan and his office, he certainly had to know what Sinnott and Feeney were doing. I will acknowledge that I don't have photographic and telephonic evidence to present to support my belief. However, I do have what I consider strong circumstantial evidence, particularly relating to the Council President.

First, consider that the announcement of my arrest began to be broadcast around 7:30 a.m. This means that the earliest that the Council President could have learned of my arrest if she was not part of the team was around 8 a.m. This would mean that between that time and noon, she would have to think about next steps and contact Corporation Counsel Sinnott since she was not a lawyer and would have felt the need for legal guidance. They then would have had to meet to develop a strategy before calling the press to start the media process. While it could have happened without prior knowledge, I am doubtful, particularly because the Council President is known to be controversy adverse, so it is difficult to conceive her moving quickly without Council consultation to take what I think was bold and controversial action.

The other reason for my belief is that I think she was very vulnerable to pressure from the Attorney General's office based on her involvement in helping the Senator obtain a liquor license for Mr. Wilburn. If you examine the FBI affidavit that was issued at the time of the Senator's arrest approximately three weeks before my arrest, it referenced a meeting that took place at the state house regarding a liquor license for Wilburn. This meeting was initiated by a call from Council President Feeney to the Senate President Teresa Murray at the request of the Senator.

The purpose of the meeting that took place on August 16th was to work out a deal to get an all purpose liquor license for Wilburn. At the meeting were the Senator; Senate President Murray; Senator Montigney, head of the Senate Licensing Committee; Council President Feeney; and Chairperson Potaski of the Liquor License Commission. The affidavit states that an agreement was reached to have Council President Feeney write a home rule petition which after approval by the Council and Mayor would be sent to the State Legislature which has to approve the creation of new liquor licenses. Five new all purpose licenses would be created one of which would be given to Mr. Wilburn and the rest distributed with the advice of the Senator. Returning to City Hall Council President Feeney took responsibility to have the home rule petition presented to the Council without a hearing and approved by a voice vote, not a roll call.

I am not saying that the Council President received money from Sullivan's agent Wilburn in return for this action. Even though Sullivan tried to make it look like my support for additional licenses was based on a deal with Wilburn, my support grew out of support for the fairness of increasing the number of all purpose liquor licenses for establishments operating in the Greater Roxbury community. Thus, I can not say that her actions did not have the same motivations as mine--fairness and justice. I am very doubtful, however, that she would have moved as quickly, forcefully, and continuously to remove me without the guidance of the US Attorney given the cloud of suspicion, hanging over her, because of her key role in obtaining a license for Wilburn. That is why I believe I was a victim of a triple team coordinated by Sullivan.

2) Two Juries of My Peers

From the moment the press began the campaign to convict me in the court of public opinion, my position was that I had a right to be considered innocent until I had a trial before a jury of my peers. However, the Council aspect of the triple team, led by Council President Feeney, presented me with a situation where I was going to have two juries of my peers. By summoning me to meet with the Council even before being indicted, it seemed that Council President Feeney and Corporation Counsel Sinnott were trying to establish the Council in the minds of the court of public opinion as a jury of my peers with a right to speak to their belief of my guilt or innocence before the legal process even began in court.

However, what could the Council say. Without an indictment by the grand jury, there wouldn't even be a trial. I had no doubt that Sullivan could get the grand jury to indict me. The Council, however, had no right to make that assumption. The Council could not take any action on the basis of the arrest. Sullivan had a right to get an arrest warrant if in his opinion a person under investigation was a flight risk or a danger to the public, neither of which were relevant in my case. Taking an action on the basis of my arrest would create, I believed, more of a problem for Sullivan than for me. Logically, it seemed that the only purpose was to put the Council in the position of a jury of my peers in the court of pubic opinion.

Based on Council rules since the executive session would focus on a personnel issue, the discussion could not be discussed publicly, creating a vacuum in which the media could speculate about the actions the Council was planning to take. While the Council had no power to act, the public would not be informed of that and would believe the likely media spin that they were planning to remove me. This would obviously reinforce the idea that I was guilty. The only way to stop the clever psychological scheme by the Council President and Corporation Counsel was to demand that the meeting be public which I did. Their only alternative was to retreat, call off the Council meeting, and lose the first round which they did.

The Council President had lost the first round. Once I had been indicated, however, with pressure, I believe, from the US Attorney's office and Corporation Counsel Sinnott, she again tried to position the Council as my judge and jury. This time she hired a former judge magistrate at a mayoral approved rate of $500 an hour to gather "facts" about my case that could be presented to the Council.

To me, this represented the most serious challenge to date. Sullivan had released on the day of arrest `photographic evidence of my guilt’. A few weeks later, his office released parts of a transcript of a recorded conversation between the Senator and the Council President in order to take suspicions off Feeney. I had no doubt he would find a way to provide "evidence about my crime" for the fact finder to put in a report that Feeney would then use to attempt to get the Council to speak out against me in its role as a quasi jury of my peers.

The triple team failed when the new Council President, Mike Ross, realized that since Sullivan was trying to force me to sign a `gag’ order, the fact finder would not be able to obtain evidence from the US Attorney that could be shared with the Council. I believe that if I had voluntarily agreed to sign the`gag’ order, they would have continued their process of releasing information when it was helpful to their efforts to get rid of me, one way or the other. This would have enabled the fact finder to issue a report that would have looked substantive and enabled Feeney to continue her efforts to oust me. The significance of this ploy is that it was conducted with, I believe, the active support of the federal office which is supposed to assure not only public safety but also justice in Massachusetts.

3) Selective Prosecution:

In two interviews with a Boston Globe columnist, Ron Wilburn said that he did not understand why other people were not arrested in addition to the Senator and I. This led people in the community to think that Wilburn had gathered evidence on others who could be brought to trial but were not. This also led people to think that Sullivan's actions toward the Senator and I were part of what seemed to be a national Bush attack on black public officials after eight US prosecutors were fired for not using their powers politically. Unfortunately, Wilburn, who also said in one of the interviews that I was innocent and who later said that he would not testify, never shared the information that he had regarding who he believed should have been brought to trial. Perhaps, one day Wilburn will see the light and reveal the truth.

I believe that US Attorneys in order to keep the political spotlight on some and not on others will select those whom they believe it is in their interest to prosecute while others are allowed to resign. I believe that is why Dan Potaski, the chairperson of the Boston Licensing Commission, quietly resigned after the Senator changed her plea to guilty in June of 2010. Since he was still in his fifties and unable to receive a full pension, there was no apparent reason for him to resign. My belief is that this is an example of selective prosecution.

Sullivan had the evidence, I believe, to bring Potaski to trial but since he wanted the public to associate the idea of public corruption with two black officials, he allowed Potaski to resign. Also, the resignation prevented the spotlight that would have been put on the Commission and its historical role in the issuing of liquor licenses that would have come out as the trial progressed. Given the fact that the Wilburn's FBI handler admitted at my trial that nobody wanted the hearing I sponsored to take place because of the potential embarrassment to the Commission, it is clear that they wouldn't want to put Potaski on trial.

I do not have photographic evidence or recorded conversations to verify my belief but I think there is circumstantial evidence beyond Potaski's resignation itself. The FBI affidavit presented at the time of the Senator's arrest contained transcriptions of recorded conversations in which Steve Miller, principle in the law firm that represents over 70% of the successful liquor license applicants in Boston, told Wilburn that he would obtain a liquor license for him from Potaski even without Wilburn attending the hearing. He was a man of his word even though the license was only a beer and wine license. However, since Wilburn had no place to use the license, the issuance was a clear violation of the law.

In addition, when Wilburn was on the stand at my trial, he said that when Miller told him he wanted to help because his friend Arthur Winn, a supporter of the Senator, had asked him, he said there would be no charge. However, Wilburn said that later Miller had asked him to give him I think the amount was $1000, but Miller didn't say why he was asking for the money since he had originally offered his services free of charge.

When I heard Wilburn's testimony I had to wonder if this money from the FBI that Wilburn provided to Miller was used to put Potaski in a position where he either had to resign or face criminal charges. I assume that we will never know why the money was asked for or who was the eventual recipient. What we do know is that as soon as the Senator's case was over, Potaski quietly left the position of power that he had held for years. That is why I believe that Potaski's resignation is an example of selective prosecution.

C) Action Steps:

Action steps proposed in Installments two and three would enable prosecutors to be criminally charged and sued as well as limit public discussion of evidence until the trial are key to curbing prosecutorial terrorism such as we see in my case. However, the question of selective prosecution is one that I haven't discussed. I believe that this issue would require the creation of an office within the Justice Department that would have responsibility to review the actions of the US Attorneys relating to the questions of selective prosecutions, use of criminals in investigations, arrest practices, as well as other areas that can not be dealt with through the creation of laws.

The other issue raised by this installment relates to the question of the appropriate means of handling alleged criminal behavior by elected officials. As I have stated, I think Council President Feeney's actions regarding my arrest and indictment were unjust and politically motivated. Yet, I acknowledge that the arrest of a public official on charges of betraying his or her public trust is a serious and difficult situation, particularly if the person charged is a member of a legislative body. The other members of the body will undoubtedly hear calls for action to be taken against the accused official. At the same time, the constituents supporting the official will insist that the right to replace the person is not the legislative body's but the constituents' through the elective process.

If there are rules in place that prescribe the steps that can be legally taken, it is a less difficult situation since the members of the legislative body will be within their rights to take whatever action is dictated by the law, whether that action is popular or not. The more difficult situation is the one faced by the Boston City Council when I was arrested and indicted. In that situation, there was no legal framework in place. I commend Councilor Ross for his decision to set up a rule so that if I was convicted, there would be a framework for action although the rule was vague on what action could be taken which led to my legal challenge of my ouster in December of 2010.

For those of you living in an area where your city council or state legislative bodies have no laws governing the action that can be taken in such a situation, I urge you to petition the body to explore the alternatives by researching methods employed by legislative bodies throughout the country. This would then present them with a wide range of options for consideration. The key issue is the need for a process to be in place before an elected official finds himself or herself indicted for a crime.

In the midst of the controversy regarding Council President Feeney's actions, Mel King, the Godfather and guru of Boston community based politics, made a suggestion that I think has merit. His idea was that the process should keep the power in the hands of the people. In that light, he suggested that a special election be held within a relatively short period of time in order to assess whether the person continued to have the support of his constituents.

I would suggest that rather than make it a competitive election that consideration be given to structuring as a vote of confidence. If the person was able to get the majority of votes, then they would have received a mandate for staying in office until the trial is completed. If the person was found guilty, then the process for dealing with convicted elected officials could take place. If s/he did not receive a majority of the votes, the person would have to take a leave until after the trial.

There are problems with this approach such as the limited information about the crime that would be available. Also, the cost of the election would be a concern. In addition, if the person was required to take a leave, then there is a vacuum of representation. If the special election is competitive, would the public be able to focus on the issues confronting the district or would all the focus be on the guilt or innocence of the official. However, an approach based on voting would resolve the issue of whether the constituents wanted the person to continue to serve. The most important lesson is that political bodies need to think ahead to assure there are appropriate strategies to deal with this type of situation.

Next Week: What First Amendment?”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Imprisoned Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner's June 30, 2011 Message From Behind The Wall

(The following article was originally posted on the "Support Chuck Turner" blog)

Reflections from Behind the Wall

Topic: Anatomy of a FrameUP

In last week’s first installment of Anatomy of a FrameUp, I outlined my background and lifetime of service. My purpose was to put US Attorney Sullivan’s sting and frameup in the context of my life’s work. This week I will focus on the day of the arrest and my reflections on it. Each of the remaining installments will have three segments. The first will be a narrative describing what happened in that particular segment of the experience and my reflections on it. The second will be an analysis examining what we may learn from my experience regarding the method of operation of US prosecutors; their police force, the FBI, and the court system. The third will focus on proposals for actions in our ongoing fight against prosecutorial terrorism.

Installment 2: Keystone Cops Strike Again:

A) Narrative:

On November 21, 2008, at 6:16 a.m. I was confronted in my office at City Hall by 10 white men and women, some in police uniforms. One of them barked at me, “Hang up the phone”. I had been talking with my wife, Terri, who had called me 10 minutes earlier, saying that the FBI had just come to our house to arrest me. My first response was “Well it finally happened” and we both laughed since Terri had been saying for years that my political work would result in my being killed or put in jail.

My second response was “Why are they going to arrest me.” She said she didn’t know and went on to say that they forced their way into the house when she told them that I had left for work. She was still relating her experience with them when the FBI accompanied by Boston Police burst into my office and ordered me to hang up the phone.

The large officer at the edge of my desk who had told me to hang up the phone, then ordered me to stand up and put my hands behind my back. As I followed his instructions, I started to laugh which infuriated him. “What are you laughing at?”, he shouted. I replied, “You would never understand”.

The situation was obviously a serious one. At the same time these ten “public safety officers” standing around me in my small office getting ready to handcuff a 68 year old, black, 9 year City Councilor, and lifelong activist seemed so ludicrous that I couldn’t help but laugh. It seemed that somehow I was playing a part in a grade C detective movie or perhaps even a Keystone Cops movie.

At that point, the leader of the group said move and I and the pack of “public safety officials” began to move out the door, some in front of me and some behind. As we walked down the hall to the elevators, I wanted to ask how much each of them earned per hour because it seemed like a tremendous waste of tax payer money. Did they think I was going to make a break for it and they needed ten officers to take me down? Even if they thought I was going to perform an act of civil disobedience, they wouldn’t need ten officers.

When the elevator arrived, it seemed that they all wanted to ride with me so most of us crowded into the elevator and rode to the first floor level where we walked out to the parking area where I saw a traditional red Ford parked and waiting for us. The young, male FBI agent who had interviewed me three weeks before said “Get in the car”. I turned my back to him so he could take the cuffs off, when he again barked “Get in the car”. I then realized that they were playing “We’ve caught the dangerous criminal who will make a run for it, if we take the handcuffs off”. Or maybe it was the “Now that we have arrested this arrogant, loudmouth “Negro” politician, lets show him whose in charge and how difficult we are going to make life for him”.

Regardless which scene they (the young female agent who had also interviewed me was by then standing beside him) were playing, the best thing to do was to try to make myself as comfortable as possible, hand cuffs and all in the back seat of their car. As I listened to them talk, it became apparent that they were getting ready to take me on a 45 minute ride to Worcester, MA. Apparently US Attorney Sullivan had scheduled my arrest to take place on the day that the judge magistrate who would arraign me was at the Courthouse in Worcester.

After about twenty minutes of trying to get comfortable with my hands cuffed behind my back, I started to have the urge to ask if they could at least loosen the cuffs. However, it occurred to me that their objective was to make me as uncomfortable as possible. So it was clear that the best thing to do was to suck it up and understand that my discomfort was miniscule compared to what others endure at the hands of “public safety officers” every day.

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Worcester, they couldn’t find their way to the court house. They kept asking questions of the person on the other end of their radio unit but it didn’t seem to do any good. However, after what seemed to be a half an hour, finally we arrived at the Worcester federal court house and parked in the back. The female officer opened the rear door and said “Get out”. I thought for a moment about resisting and forcing them to have the court officers carry me out of the car into the jail. But then an internal voice said what would be the point or value of an act of resistance at this point.

Sitting in the barren jail cell, with no idea of my crime, I felt very alone. I had no idea what time I would go before the judge. However, I knew I had to find some way to keep myself calm until that moment. Remembering Nichiren Daishonen, the Buddhist monk who had been imprisoned for his views, I began to chant “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo” the powerful chant he had developed. After a few minutes I would pause and then begin again.

After about an hour or so, I began to hear this strange clanging against the bars and realized that I was not alone. I assumed that the clanging was a message to stop chanting. At that moment, I was in no mood to take his or her feelings into consideration. I rationalized that whether s/he realized it, my chanting was helping both of us.

Eventually, I dozed off and was awakened by a guard saying that my lawyers had arrived. It was now two thirty. I was told that in a half hour, I would be led into court to begin the most difficult ordeal of my life. While I was being moved to Worcester, Terri had been contacted by Kazi Toure and Steve Kirshbaum, political allies, who when they heard I had been arrested secured legal assistance.

Kazi worked as an investigator for Barry Wilson, a local criminal lawyer, who agreed to represent me at the arraignment. Steve, a steward of the School Bus Drivers Union, asked John Pavlos, also a criminal lawyer, to join Barry. Also through the bus drivers union and the International Action Center, Steve organized a group of men to provide security on the porch of our house bringing a sense of relief to Terri who was being barraged by the ever present, ever insistent press.

In the short time we had before going before the magistrate, John and Barry showed me the affidavit that the prosecutor had given them. The affidavit said that I was being charged with extortion, three counts of lying to the FBI officials who had interviewed me three weeks before, and conspiracy with Senator Dianne Wilkerson, the first Black female state senator. There were also two pictures of a black hand putting something in my hand. I couldn’t see the person’s face but the picture on the wall led me to believe that it had been taken in my district office.

The affidavit identified the hand as belonging to US Attorney Sullivan’s cooperating witness who they only identified as a community business person. The senator and I were accused of being in a conspiracy to extort money from him. The charges of lying to FBI agents were based on the fact that when I was interviewed three weeks earlier on the day of the Senator’s arrest for taking bribes, I was asked three questions by the officers. Did I know a local businessman, Ron Wilburn? Did Mr. Wilburn ever offer to give me a fund raiser? Did Mr. Wilburn ever give me money? To which I answered No, No, and definitely Not. How could I been given money by a person that I didn’t even know. My answers to these questions increased the number of my crimes (counts) from two to five.

After talking briefly about the procedures of the court process and agreeing to meet the following Sunday, the three of us proceeded to court. When the court officer opened the door to the court room, what I saw almost brought tears to my eyes. The court room was filled. There were my wife and one of my daughters in the front row. Around them and back of them were a myriad of other friends and supporters. Despite the fact that Sullivan had arranged that the session would be held 45 miles away from Boston, my family, friends, and supporters were still there with me in my time of need. The moment just confirmed what I have always said, “Our greatest asset in the struggle for justice is the love and support of each other”.

As I turned to look at the judge and prosecutor, I was amazed by the smirk on the face of the person who would be presenting the government’s case, Asst US Attorney McNeil. I assumed he was thinking, “Now we’ve got you!” I said to myself “But you’re not going to keep me without the fight of your life” and smiled back. The formalities went quickly. The prosecutor read the charges. I plead not guilty. The judge said some other things that I don’t remember and released me on my own recognizance with the reminder that if I broke any of the conditions, I would not only go to jail but forfeit a $50,000 bond which meant to me that I would have to give the government $50,000 which would have been an impossibility.

Moving out of the court room surrounded by friends and family, someone said that the Boston City Council President Maureen Feeney had announced at noon that she was stripping me of my Council Committee seats and inviting me to meet with the Council on Monday, the next working day, to decide what they would do. I said to myself, “It’s amazing, a year ago, I went to Maureen as a representative of Team Unity, the four Boston City Councilors of color, and said that if she ran for President, we would support her because we thought she would be a fairer Council President than Councilor Flaherty. Now that’s she President, she’s tried me before I have even been indicted. Looks like we made a bad assumption about fairness.”

Before I could think any more about the irony of her actions, the doors to the outside were opened and in front of us were lights, cameras, and reporters shouting, “Do you have a statement. What have you got to say”. Understanding that to say nothing would be taken as an admission of guilt, I went to the battery of mikes, thinking that it was amazing that during my nine years as a Councilor, I would be lucky if any reporters showed up to cover what I thought were important news stories. Now that I am accused of being a corrupt politician, they all want to hear what I have to say.

So I made it short and sweet. “Let me be clear. I am not guilty of any of the charges. I have served the people of my district with integrity over the last nine years and intend to continue. And Council President Feeney has no right to take away my Council powers, I haven’t even been indicted.” Then it all became a blur as we moved to get into the car and drive to Boston to prepare for Monday’s confrontation with Council President Feeney and the Council.

B) Analysis:

1) Psychological Warfare:

The first piece of advice that my lawyers gave me was that the objective of those who I was fighting, the US Attorney and the FBI, was winning–not justice, not truth, not honest evidence–winning by any means necessary. As I talk with the men with whom I’m incarcerated, they say that their experience confirms that fact. I’ve heard estimates of the federal conviction rate that run from 92% to 98% with the vast majority of the convictions coming through the accused pleading guilty to try to get a lower sentence because of the fear of trying to fight.

One of the reasons, I believe, that there is a fear of fighting is that the key strategy employed is to convince the person that they have accused that there is no way to win so why even try. Even the way that I was arrested was designed to psychologically intimidate me and establish their power in my mind. It was also racist because it was not used with white elected officials arrested in Boston in the past.

In the cases of both the Senator and I, the FBI came to our houses a little before 6 in the morning, at a time when people are either still asleep or just waking up. Their purpose is to conduct the arrest at a time when the person is not fully conscious. This enables them to more easily implant the thought that they are too powerful a force to resist and creates a fear that further weakens resistance.

Since I was at the office when the FBI came to my house to arrest me and was warned by Terri that they were on the way to the office, they did not have the psychological advantage of surprise and disorientation when they arrived. However, their arrest strategy had other elements designed to psychologically intimidate. Sending 10 “public safety officers” to arrest a 68 year old City Councilor is absurd unless the point is to psychologically intimidate through a “show of force”. Then to have me stand up and be handcuffed made no sense unless their objective was to reinforce the thought that regardless of what position I held before they came, now I am a criminal and under their complete control.

The fact that they initiate the arrests at such an early hour also creates an additional psychological advantage for them. The wait between arrival at the courthouse jail at 6:30 or 7:00 o’clock in the morning and the arraignment that will probably occur in the late afternoon is also psychologically disruptive. The person therefore has to cope with a long period of time without support during which anxiety is bound to develop with a psychologically weakening effect

The staging of the arrest on a day when the judge was in Worcester, 45 miles away from Boston, I believe, was also part of their psychological design. Having me arraigned in a City a significant distance from Boston, they thought would cut down on the number of people who could come to support me as well as give me psychological strength. The implied message of this action was, “You might have support but we can find ways to cut you off from that support, anytime that we choose.”

The other crucial element of their strategy is to begin a process of convincing the public that the person is guilty before there can be any possibility of defense. This element is put into action through their ally, the media. Less than 2 hours after my arrest, the media locally and nationally were carrying the story of my arrest with pictures allegedly showing the crime taking place.

To reinforce the psychological imprint of the early news release, US Attorney Sullivan called an early morning press conference at which he told what I call “The Big Lie” in my next installment. The purpose of the lie was to hide the fact that the criminal scenario had been arranged by him not the Senator and I as he alleged in the affidavit and press conference.

If Sullivan had told the truth in the press conference, I couldn’t have been charged with conspiracy. How could the Senator and I be conspiring to extort money from Ron Wilburn, when Sullivan had been paying Wilburn, the alleged extorted businessman, for over a year to carry out a sting to entrap both of us. As I said earlier, the objective is not justice but winning. To tell the truth would have exposed his plot to frame me. But more about the “Big Lie” in the next installment.

2) Media: The Storm Troopers of Federal Prosecutors’ Psychological Warfare:

While the US prosecutors have direct control over the FBI to aid their efforts, they have indirect control over the media whose hunger for breaking news leads them to publicize the stories of the prosecutors without critical analysis. After the “reporters’ write what they have been given by the prosecutors to convict the defendant in the court of public opinion, the columnists follow up by giving their views to further convince the public that the FBI “Got the right man” or “woman”. All of this often before there has even been an indictment, as in my case.

The other role played by the media in the terror process is to incessantly hound the person and h/er family. It is hard to describe the feelings caused by having tv trucks and reporters’ cars outside your house from early in the morning to late at night. The incessant knocking on the door. The hounding while at work to answer their questions as if you owe them. The knocking on neighbors’ doors to get their opinions. In my case, reporters even called relatives in my home town to get their reaction before I could talk with them.

For me, it was particularly galling because in the past when there were important issues I wanted the media to cover, they acted as if I didn’t exist. However, now having an opportunity to ridicule and harass me, they were constantly at the door. The effect is a emotional wearing down not only through the intensity of their presence but also through the negative stories put in the press as well as on tv and radio. All of this takes place before the defense lawyers even have an opportunity to see the evidence. I believe this barrage of negative energy and coverage is one of the reasons why the federal prosecutors have such a high percentage of those accused taking a plea rather than going to court.

3) The Counts (Charges):

The charges themselves play a key role in the psychological warfare, through the number of counts and the description of the counts. For example, I was charged with extortion which made people think that I was being accused of threatening or coercing, Mr. Wilburn in some way. However, on the first day of the trial, the Judge explained to the jury that to find me guilty they did not have to find that I had put any pressure on Mr. Wilburn. In fact, I didn’t even have to ask him for anything (which I didn’t). All that was needed under the extortion law for me to be found guilty was for me to have been given something with the understanding that it was being given for me to take a particular action. When I heard the judge’s statement, I assumed that the law and its name had been designed by J.Edgar Hoover so that he could take down any elected official he didn’t like.

As I said above, the conspiracy charge would have been exposed as a lie if the truth about Ron Wilburn had been told by the US Attorney at the press conference. By keeping the conspiracy charge alive for two and a half years, they were able to cover the lie but by the time I went to trial, that charge had been dropped. So when the prosecutor admitted on the first day of the trial that Wilburn had been paid $30,000 by them to operate a sting, the fact that they had lied about the conspiracy was irrelevant because there were only four charges and extortion was not one of them. One of the four charges of course was extortion for allegedly accepting a thousand dollars in return for calling a hearing regarding discrimination in the distribution of liquor licenses. This was a hearing that the FBI admitted on the stand they did not want to take place because of the fear that it would embarrass the members of the Licensing Commission.

The other three counts (charges) related to the visit by the FBI agents on the day of the Senator’s arrest. Since I had nothing to fear as far as I knew, I agreed to meet with them. If I had exercised good judgment I would have refused to meet with them until I had consulted with an attorney. It is obvious now and should have been obvious then that the only reason the FBI would visit me on the morning of the Senator’s arrest would be to tie me into her case. The fact that I didn’t exercise good judgment I have to admit is one of the key reasons why I am writing this from a federal prison. Let that be a warning to all. If the FBI come calling, immediately call your lawyer.

The essence of the meeting was their asking me three questions. Do you know Ron Wilburn? Did Ron Wilburn offer you a fund raiser? Did you accept money from him. As I said earlier in this installment my answers were no, no, and certainly not. Even today I don’t remember the twenty five minutes we spent together as he carried out his instructions from his FBI handler. Yes, I’ve seen the pictures. Yes, I’ve listened to recordings of two conversations that lasted about 25 minutes and I’ve seen the transcript of our five minute conversation on the day that it is alleged that he gave me a $1000. But I still don’t remember meeting him. Even he admitted at trial that we had never met before he initiated contact at the request of the FBI. However, those three responses to their questions led to my being convicted for four felonies rather than one and added to their ability to put me in jail for 36 months. The judge also added another unofficial count by saying that he knew I had committed perjury when I testified in my own defense and used that “unofficial count” to add to my time of incarceration.

C) Actions:

I recommend six actions that needed to counteract the prosecutorial terrorism practiced by the prosecutors and the FBI. First, the most important action to stop prosecutorial terrorism is to start a national campaign to create a law that makes it legal for prosecutors to be criminally charged as well sued for misconduct. At the present time prosecutors can Not be sued for conscious or unconscious acts of misconduct. The rampant prosecutorial terrorism is a logical consequence, I believe, of the desire of prosecutors at the federal, state, and local level to win by any means necessary and the inability to take legal action against them. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Even federal judges are relatively powerless to punish federal prosecutors for their misconduct. In Massachusetts, Mark Wolfe, Chief Justice of the Federal Bench, a former federal prosecutor, in 2007 asked the Bar Counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers to take disciplinary action against Jeffery Auerhahn. a veteran federal prosecutor. Asst US Attorney Auerhahn had withheld key evidence in a Mafia case in the 1990s. The panel established by the Bar Counsel took no action until the end of 2010 when they recommended that he be suspended. I am not sure whether that recommendation was approved.

In January 2009, two months before Sullivan resigned to become a law partner with John Ashcroft, former US Attorney General, Chief Justice Wolfe wrote a 42 page memorandum to Sullivan threatening to censure Asst US Attorney Susan Sullivan (no relation) or the US Attorney’s office or both based on her failure to disclose that a Boston police officer gave testimony in court in a Dorchester drug case that contradicted what the officer had told her on many occasions.

Expressing his frustration with continuous prosecutorial misconduct, he stated in the memo, “The egregious failure of the government to disclose plainly material exculpatory evidence in this case extends a dismal history of intentional and inadvertent violations of the government’s duties to disclose in cases assigned to this court”.

To reinforce his frustration, he listed nine major cases he presided over during the last two decades in which prosecutors working for US Attorney Michael Sullivan and his predecessors allegedly withheld important evidence. In several cases, he said the misconduct led to mistrials and convictions that were overturned (Boston Globe, January 27, 2009).

Interviewed by Johnathan Saltzman of the Glove after the memorandum was issued, Wolfe said that his only successful sanction in cases of prosecutorial misconduct over two decades occurred in 2002, when he ordered an inexperienced prosecutor to attend a seminar on wrongful convictions after the lawyer repeatedly withheld critical evidence.

It seems clear that if the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Federal Bench has not been able to appropriately sanction misconduct on the part of prosecutors working for US Attorney Sullivan and previous US Attorneys, we can not expect federal judges in general to stop prosecutorial misconduct. We have to demand justice. We have to demand that prosecutors not be allowed to be above the law; that they be held accountable for their actions. The only way to accomplish this is to pass a law making it legal to criminally charge them as well as sue them for prosecutorial misconduct such as the lie that US Attorney Sullivan sent around the country on November 21, 2008 regarding my arrest.

Second, I think we need a campaign to require federal prosecutors to present to the court at the time of arraignment a statement of the procedures used in the arrests and an explanation of why those procedures were used. I believe this is a critical element in curtailing their use of psychological warfare as well as racism in handling arrests. Forcing them to expose to the court and the public how they conduct the business of arrests, I believe, will force them to end the double standards as well as the terror tactics that we have seen practiced in Boston and elsewhere.

Third, we need to require that affidavit which give the information regarding the crimes that led to the arrest be sealed until the trial begins and that similar action be taken regarding indictments based on grand jury proceedings. The public has a right to know the charges leading to the arrest. However, if there is any validity in the concept that a person should be viewed as innocent until s/he has been convicted by a jury of peers, the prosecutors and media have to be stopped from trying the defendant in the court of public opinion. Also, the sealing of the documents will stop prosecutors from using the pre trial media as a way of building their public image, heightening the possibilities for career advancement. This law would also have to carry criminal penalties for anyone distributing or publishing information from sealed court documents.

Fourth, the area of compiling the counts (charges) needs to be carefully examined for possible reforms. As said above, I believe the counts are part of the psychological warfare process. I couldn’t understand why the prosecutor and FBI kept searching for the book in which Ron Wilburn said he had written his telephone number on the day that he allegedly gave me $1000. I thought that if it could be found, it would actually support my contention of innocence since the jury would question why I was asking him for his telephone number if I had called him four hours before, giving him the signal to bring me $1000. Later, I realized that they would have used it to give me another count which would strengthen in their eyes the credibility of their case and increase the time that I would have to spend in jail if found guilty.

Fifth, we need to consider reforming the grand jury process that leads to indictments moving the court process to the pre trial stage. As now structured, particularly at the federal level, the prosecutors are in complete control of the process and spend months working with the grand jury. This naturally builds a strong relationship between the prosecutor and the grand jury which strengthens their willingness to support the government’s perspective. At the very least, people summoned to testify need to be allowed to have their lawyer present. At this time, only the person summoned is able to be in the grand jury room.

Sixth, we need to begin to train activists to understand psychological warfare; how it’s used; and how to resist it. It is understandable that our educational institutions don’t prepare us to develop our mental capabilities so that we are not susceptible to their psychological terror tactics. We have to appreciate that we are at war with those who use their power to create psychological havoc and mentally coerce people into a mindset where they are afraid to fight back against oppression. We have to arm ourselves with a science of the mind that will enable us to control our emotions even in the face of tactics designed to destroy our psychological stability.

Clearly, the fight to end prosecutorial terrorism will be long and hard. However, if America is to be strengthened as a democracy where the people in reality are in control, we have to develop a criminal justice system that focuses on justice.

Next Week’s Installment: The Big Lie

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Imprisoned Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner's June 24, 2011 Message From Behind The Wall

(the following article was originally posted on the "Support Chuck Turner" blog)
Reflections from Behind the Wall:

Topic: Anatomy of A FRAME UP!

This is the first installment in an eight part series in which I
discuss my two and a half year experience with the Justice Department
that has led to my being a convicted felon at the work camp at USP
Hazelton, Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.

Installment 1: A Lifetime of Service

My first reaction was that I was dreaming; no, I was having a
nightmare but I couldn’t wake up. After a lifetime of fighting for
justice, I was in handcuffs being led out of City Hall. I didn’t even
know what I was being accused of. Later, it became all too clear, not
only from the prosecutor describing me as a corrupt politician but
also from the newspaper headlines the next morning screaming that I
had been indicted for conspiracy to extort money from a local
community business man and lying about it to the FBI.

How could this happen? I knew I hadn’t done what they said but there
were the camera trucks in front of our house. Reporters knocking at
the door, urging me to talk to them as if it was my responsibility to
answer their questions. Sure, they were just doing their job but they
were part of an establishment that I had been fighting for decades.
Yet, here they were ridiculing me, mocking me, gloating over my
alleged hypocrisy. I felt like Alice in Wonderful and I had no idea
how to get out of the rabbit hole.

The situation was totally absurd. Just eighteen months ago I had
declared my intention to launch a Peace and Prosperity Campaign. I had
said to my constituents that after eight years in office, I was
convinced that we needed to revise our strategy. It was not enough to
organize and fight against the external forces of oppression, those
who believed they had the right to abuse us. It was not enough to use
the City Council process to establish new laws and regulations. We had
to recognize that we had to do for self. We had to be the source of
our strength and development.

We had to recognize, I said, that through our own individual and
collective actions we had to create the foundation for the future that
we needed and desired not only for ourselves but also for our children
and their children’s children. I argued that we needed to recognize
that the prosperity that we hungered for as a community and
individually could only be realized by establishing peace in our
community and dedicating ourselves to using our talents and resources
to regenerate ourselves. I said we needed a Campaign for Peace and
Prosperity. We needed to put into action a pledge to constantly work
to develop ourselves and our community. There was even a motto, “Do No

I wondered what would be the questions in the minds of people who had
heard and remembered my call. What would be the thoughts of those who
had slowly begun to get involved in the strategy I was urging? While I
was trusted in the community that I had lived and worked in for over
forty years, how would they withstand the media bombardment. How would
they resist the accusations that their Councilor was an extortionist,
conspiring with our first female black state senator to extort money
from a local businessman, attempting to get a liquor license for a
club that he planned to open in the community’s new and first hotel.

What could I say to my constituents that could allay their fears and
doubts? How could I convince them that I was not a hypocrite? I knew I
was innocent but I also knew that the constant barrage of convicting
information would make even those close to me wonder what had
happened. At least, I knew that eventually the truth would come out
and I would be able to laugh at what a horrible mistake had been made.
I hadn’t done what they said so how could I be convicted. Even the
FBI’s affidavit was full of holes that would allow my lawyer to
quickly end the nightmare.

Yet, today 31 months after my arrest, I am an inmate at the Hazelton
Federal Prison work camp in the mountains of West Virginia. I am
ending the third month of my 36 month sentence. Despite my optimism
that the truth would come out; despite the fact that the U.S.
Attorney’s Cooperating Witness said in the Boston Globe 6 months after
my arrest that as far as he was concerned I was innocent, naive but
innocent; despite the constant display of support from friends,
constituents and allies before, during, and after the trial; and
despite over 700 letters to the judge saying that I should be put on
probation, here I sit a convicted felon.

However, I have learned during my 71 years that the art of living is
not demonstrated by how you celebrate your victories but by your
ability to turn seeming defeats into victories. Yes, I feel battered
but certainly not broken. The struggle for justice is a continuing one
and my commitment to devote my life as a warrior to that struggle
still burns bright. The question as always is what to do and as usual
the answer is clear. Even before I entered USP Hazelton I knew I
needed a plan to guide my actions. My plan would have to focus on
preparing myself to reenter the struggle stronger on every level than
when I left. It would have to enable me to continue to share my
thinking with my community, and finally it would need to enable me to
fulfill a commitment made to my community at a rally in front of my
community office six days after my arrest on the day before
Thanksgiving, 2008.

At the rally, energized by having survived a plot initiated by the
City Council President (and others I assume) to drive me from office
on the day after my arrest, I decided to focus on the opportunities
that the situation presented us. I urged my supporters to build a
communications network among friends, coworkers, and colleagues. I
talked about talking points that they should raise to counter the
media’s incessant attacks on my character. It was an opportunity, I
declared, to stimulate critical thinking and increase our community’s
capacity to see through the smoke screens put out by the
establishment’s mouthpieces.

I emphasized that while I was fighting for my survival, the struggle
is more important than anyone one individual. I stressed that those of
us who commit ourselves to struggle for justice have to be prepared to
use the attacks to strengthen our community despite the casualties
that will inevitably take place. From that perspective, I knew that
regardless of what happened to me, i had a responsibility to turn this
attack into a learning experience through which we all could learn and

Since it was obvious that US Attorney Sullivan and his police force,
the FBI, were conspiring to frame me for a crime that I didn’t commit,
I pointed out the golden opportunity we were presented to examine up
close and personal how they operate. They continuously study us to
assess our strengths and weaknesses. We should do no less if we are
serious in our pursuit of justice. Through such a rigorous analysis
and examination of their tactics, we could help our brothers and
sisters in the struggle become wiser in evading the “criminal justice
system’s” continuous attempts to thwart justice and use prison to turn
us into a permanent underclass and thus re enslave us.

With this focus on education, I will share with you each week over the
next seven weeks an installment exploring the twists and turns of the
Frame Up that led to my incarceration. As with all initial attempts to
deepen understanding of our experiences, I know that there will be
gaps and issues that others will see the need to explore. The
objective of this exercise is to stimulate our thinking and sharpen
our ability to critically analyze the stratagems that are used against
us. It is clear to me that if we are to be successful in ending the
use of the “criminal justice system” to perpetuate injustice, we have
to sharpen our thinking so that we can act more effectively.

In 1975, there were 500,000 people of all races in jail in this
country. Today, there are 2.3 million and the numbers are growing.
Over a million are of African-American descent. The correction
officers union, I’ve been told, is the fastest growing union in this
country. It is clear that if we are to lay the foundation for justice
for future generations we have to stop the prosecutorial terrorism
that is plaguing us all. In that spirit, please view this as an
initial attempt to use my personal experience to broaden the needed
national dialogue on how to end this terrorism.

In the remainder of this installment, I am going to share my
background and the life of activism that it inspired. I have always
believed that a fundamental principle of organizing is that the
organizer should not be the focus. Campaigns are successful when the
focus is on the goals to be achieved, the plan to achieve them, and
the process of analyzing successes and failures. Too much attention on
the organizer is distracting and dims the organization’s focus.
However, since one of the objectives of former US Attorney Sullivan’s
plot was to create the image that I was a fraud, hypocrite, and
fundamentally corrupt, I think it is important that I begin by helping
people better understand who I am.

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1940. I was blessed to have been
born into a family that had two predominant passions–a thirst for
knowledge and a desire to serve. Education was the “family business”
on both my mother’s and my father’s side of the family. My mother’s
mother was a teacher who became an elementary school principal. My
mother was a school teacher and my brother became a college professor
and dean. My father’s father was a high school biology teacher by day
and a scientist by night having earned a PHD in Zoology from the
University of Chicago in 1907. Upon his death in 1923, he was honored
by the St. Louis Science Society for his work on animal behavioral
psychology. Later the City of St. Louis named a school after him.

While education was viewed as a service, other members of the family
found other ways to serve. My mother’s sister was a social worker,
focusing her work on children. Her brother, my uncle, was a
landscaper. My father was a pharmacist and owned with his brother, my
uncle, a drug store that had the unique feature of having a pharmacy
on one side managed by my father and a bar on the other, managed by
his brother. Other members of the family sorted themselves out along
the same lines of education and business with service to our people as
the link. One of my grandmother’s brother was at Niagra Falls in 1909
as a participant in the founding of the NAACP.

My father and mother divorced when I was young and I grew up in
Cincinnati with my mother and her family while my father lived in
Chicago where he operated his business. Given Cincinnati’s location on
the Ohio River, I remember as a child hearing stories of my
grandmother going with friends and her children down to the landing
where the river boats would bring new arrivals from the South. My
grandmother’s purpose was to welcome the new families into Cincinnati
and help them establish a new life as part of the community. I
remember going with my family to Ms. Stewart’s Home for Young Women
which was a boarding house for young “colored” women coming to
Cincinnati. Outings to Ms. Stewart’s where we would have dinner with
the young women were a delight not only because of the food but also
because of the beautiful young women and delightful conversations.

While I grew up with a sense of community, sharing, and service, there
also was the other side of life for the African-American community.
The time was the 40s so segregation was the way of life once you
crossed the river and it had a strong influence on life in Cincinnati
despite the strong and wealthy Jewish community that flourished in the
city. The local amusement park was not integrated until I was 10 years
old and I grew up hearing stories of the times when you couldn’t try
on clothes in a store or had to sit upstairs in the movie theatre.
Black children living in a public housing development in a white
neighborhood were bussed to a black school miles away.

By the time I was a teenager, overt discrimination was not legal in
the city; yet that didn’t prevent the manager of a coffee shop in
downtown Cincinnati refusing me service when I was 13 and looking for
a job in the market area. When she asked me to leave because they
didn’t “serve Negroes”, I said that the law said I didn’t have to
leave so she called the police. Upon arriving, the policeman
apologized to her that there was nothing he could do. She then closed
the coffee shop. By that time, I was enjoying the game and waited
until she opened and again entered. At this point, she decided I think
that business was more important than showing me who was in control
and served me.

So I grew up in two worlds: one warm, supportive, and nurturing; the
other cold and hostile. That is not to say that there were no shades
of grey. I went to an integrated high school where I had friends of
all races. I participated in organizations designed to bring people of
all races together to understand our differences and to work
collectively on the problems confronting us. Yet, the sense of living
in two worlds was always there. Even more disturbing was the fact that
there were constant reminders that as African-Americans, we had to
understand that we were inferior. It was even said that the Bible
documented the sin that had led to our eternal inferiority. Yet, my
mother was the youngest graduate of the University of Cincinnati,
graduating at 18 in 1928 until my brother graduated from U.C. in 1947
at 16. It all seemed like a bad dream–a nightmare in fact.

With an ingrained two world perspective, I headed off to Harvard at 18
with a full scholarship in my pocket. My years there resulted in a
Harvard BA in government and a thorough exposure to the glories of the
Anglo-Saxon culture and its contributions to the world. In addition,
it further ingrained the fact that I lived in two worlds that did not
mesh. Probably, the most frustrating part was that with a Harvard
degree, I was viewed as having a excellent education. However, given
the constant emphasis on the inferiority of my people, I gained no
knowledge that helped me understand why this Christian nation behaved
in such a devilish way. I was looking for answers to the questions:
Where do we come from; why are we here; and where do we go after our
spirits leave our bodies. They were questions that I thought were
reasonable for an educated man but Harvard had no answers.

So off into the world I went. Harvard degree at the bottom of a box of
books. My family’s warning imprinted on my mind. Despite the
impressive individual accomplishments that family members had
achieved, there was a constant reminder that what we had accomplished
had only been possible because of the sacrifices and struggles of
countless unknown others who had laid a foundation upon which we could
build. In other words, no matter how much individual success and how
many accomplishments I might achieve, they would have no meaning if
the accomplishments didn’t create a base that future generations could
use in the continuous struggle for justice. “To whom much is given,
much is expected.”

I didn’t know what I was to do but at least I had a standard to
measure my success. Having majored in government and thinking that law
might provide the framework for the service I was seeking, I headed to
D.C., ironically arriving on August 23, 1963. Thus, I had the
opportunity to stand with hundreds of thousands and hear Dr. King and
others give the call to action. A few days later, I was able to get a
job as a reporter on the Washington Afro-American newspaper that
granted me access to downtown and uptown life.

It was a fascinating opportunity to be in what seemed to be the hub of
the universe, chronicalling the change happening around us. However, I
soon bored of writing about what others were doing. As if life felt my
need, in November I ran into a college classmate and Alpha brother,
Bill Strickland, at a SNCC convention I was covering who asked if i
was interested in joining him in New York as editor of the newsletter
of the organization he was heading, the Northern Student Movement
(NSM). NSM had begun as a northern group of students providing support
for the movement in the South. However, Bill and others had changed
the focus to organizing in black communities of New York, Chicago,
Boston, Philadelphia, and Hartford, Conn.

Again, while editing was interesting, when the opportunity to join a
rent strike organizing project in Harlem came, I went. I joined with a
group of young organizers who were apprenticing with Jesse Gray who
had been using the rent strike tactic to challenge landlords for
decades. In 1964, the courts had declared the strategy legal as long
as certain guidelines were followed. So into the streets of Harlem we
went ready to organize all those who previously had been afraid but
needed change.

After a few weeks, the romance wore off. Despite deplorable conditions
and the new law, we encountered people’s internal resistance to
change. Hearing our frustrations, Jesse would patiently say to us,
“People know when they are ready. You don’t. Your job is to test their
readiness. If they aren’t ready, move on”. As my experience grew over
the years, I began to understand how that philosophy had enabled Jesse
and others to maintain their energy and optimism despite the
frustrations and slowness of the process.

From Harlem, I went to Hartford to replace the director at the NSM
project in Connecticut’s capital city. The challenge of building and
maintaining a multifaceted organization was fascinating and
frustrating. We organized around a variety of issues from slum
landlords to job discrimination, raising money to pay ourselves when
national funds ran scarce. Challenging people to stand up was
exciting as well as grueling work. However, it came to a screeching
halt when a demonstration we organized to confront police brutality
led to confrontations between the police and community, resulting in
my arrest and the arrest of others in the organization and community.

We were charged with sedition and a variety of other charges that
hadn’t been used since the Sacco and Venzentti days. In view of the
media focus around outside organizers, the national organization
suggested that those of us who were not from Hartford should leave
until the trial to allow for the situation to cool down. Given that
there was an NSM project in Boston’s black community I went there. By
the time the cases were heard and I received probation, I had obtained
a job as an organizer with a local poverty program and was ready to
plant my roots in Roxbury, the heart of Boston’s black community.

During the three years between my leaving Cambridge in 1963 and
returning to Boston in 1966, I gave up the idea of becoming a lawyer.
While organizing was tough, demanding work, I was convinced that
organizing people always needed to be at the core of my work. I had
come to realize that through organizing I would be able to meet my
family commitment to have my life’s work have benefit and meaning for
the African-American struggle for justice. It was also beginning to
become clear that organizing could be a means to bring together the
two worlds that I lived in. Perhaps, most important, it satisfied my
growing appreciation for our human ability to create new realities as
we come together to focus our physical, mental, emotional, and
spiritual energy on a common purpose.

During the last forty five years, I have been driven by a desire to
both fight back against oppression and to demonstrate the power of
organized action to bring justice. My motto could have been, “Have a
need, let’s organize”. Organizing the burning of trash as a community
worker in Lower Roxbury in the late 60s led to an agreement with my
boss to leave the organization but pushed the City to clean an area,
ignored for years.

The need for unity in the late sixties in the Black and Latino
community led to the formation of the Boston Black United Front which
became the voice of the progressive community of color in Boston. A
highway threatening our community spurred the development of Operation
Stop, the joining of a regional transportation alliance against the
highway, and the formation of the Southwest Corridor Land Development
Coalition which produced a plan that guided the development of the
land once the Governor rerouted the highway around Boston.

The need for a greater share of the construction jobs in Roxbury
stimulated the development of a state wide black, Latino, and Asian
alliance, The Third World Jobs Clearing House with offices in Boston,
Cambridge, Worcester, and Springfield that operated for five years
until the Reagan administration eliminated the funding base.

At the same time the need for a multiracial political alliance in
Boston to protect affirmative action in the construction industry led
to the formation of the Boston Jobs Coalition, an alliance of black,
white, Latino, and Asian community groups, that led the fight for a
local jobs policy, guaranteeing a share of all City financed and aided
projects to Boston workers of all races, people of color, and women.
This policy, linking affirmative action to residency, became a
national model that is used today in cities across the country under
the name, the First Source Program.

My need to see workers develop economic power by pooling their talents
led to my becoming education director of the Industrial Cooperative
Association, a nonprofit consulting firm, focused on aiding workers in
the formation of businesses that they could own cooperatively. I then
spent the next five years helping workers throughout the country
develop the capacity to be owners as well as workers.

Organizing around the need for a community voice in the land use
decisions in Roxbury led in 1983 to Mayor Flynn granting the Roxbury
Neighborhood Council a guaranteed role in all land use decisions and
granting five other communities the right to establish such Councils
with similar powers.

The need to assure that community workers would get jobs as part of
the Boston Jobs Policy led to the formation of the Greater Roxbury
Workers’ Association which became a major force in securing
construction jobs for community workers for the next fifteen years.

Frustration with the level of violence in the community and the need
to develop strategies to change the thinking of the perpetrators led
me to take a job as a counselor and eventually a manager at Emerge,
the nation’s first organization to provide counseling services to men,
convicted of domestic violence. My objective was to develop an
understanding of the psychological dynamics that lead to violence in
order to develop behavior modification strategies.

The need to educate the community on the devastating effects and
extent of domestic violence in the community, led to the development
of the Community Task Force on Domestic Violence, as a vehicle through
which education and organizing could be initiated.

After 35 years of fighting against injustice from outside of
government, a need to strengthen organizing in the community led me to
attempt to use elective office as an organizing tool. In 1999, I ran
for and won a Boston City Council seat representing the community in
which I had lived and worked for decades.

Once in office, the need for a vehicle through which to link my
political representation to community organizing led to the
development of the District 7 Roundtable, a monthly forum bringing
residents and activists together to discuss issues, exchange ideas,
and develop policy initiatives that could lead to political organizing
and legislative action.

The 2000 Census showing that people of color were now the majority
population in the City put a spotlight on the need for more political
operational unity. To strengthen the unity between groups and people
of color, the institutes at U Mass Boston focused on the black,
Latino, and Asian communities sponsored a conference which led to
organization of the New Majority Coalition.

The need to end the discrimination against those with criminal records
led to the formation of the Boston Workers’ Alliance (BWA) which
played a leadership role in the development and passage of a state law
combating such discrimination as well as removing the question of
criminal conviction from the state job application.

Knowing that political victories alone are not enough, the BWA in its
six year history has also established a worker staffing agency to
provide income to the organization and jobs for its members. In
addition it has helped its members establish businesses based on the
philosophy that a job is not enough.

The recognition of an opportunity for additional community resources
in an era of shrinking dollars led to my advocacy for the City to
lease rather than sell City owned land in Roxbury designated for
economic development. Eventually the City agreed to the policy on the
city owned parcels in the Dudley Square area and to share the lease
fees with the community. Negotiations are now taking place regarding
the size of the community’s share and the vehicle for the
determination of use and distribution of the funds.

Obviously, those of us who seek to institutionalize the practice of
justice in this country are far from our goal. Therefore, the struggle
for justice and a civilized society must continue through the
development of new forms of organization and strategies. As Maulana
Ron Karenga said in the January 11, 2011 issue of the Final Call,
“…to be organized is to be in ongoing structures that harness our
energies and house and advance our interests and aspirations and unite
us into an aware and active social force for African and human good in
the world”. Former Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan has
temporarily succeeded in removing me from the front lines of the
Boston struggle for justice. However, while I rest and prepare myself
my return to the battle, others are continuing relentlessly to
struggle to make Boston and this country a beacon for the practice of
justice throughout the world.

As I look back over my 48 years of activism, I realize that I have
been walking in the footsteps of my grandfather, Charles Henry
Turner*, for whom I was named. His passion focused on studying the
behavior of mice, roaches, insects of all kinds, and particularly bees
and ants with their highly organized group behavior. He focused his
life on understanding the behavior of life forms that many consider as
“pests”, unwanted intrusions into their space rather than seeing them
as my grandfather saw them, as an essential aspect of God’s creation.

My passion has been and continues to be the study of the innate
ability of human beings to create new realities through organized
action. Because of my African-American ancestry, I have focused on the
demonstration of those capabilities by those human beings considered
by many in this country as inferior life forms, an unwanted intrusion
into their space. Hopefully, we will soon learn to recognize all human
beings as beings created “in the image of God”, each possessing a
divine creative spirit.

A Luta Continua–The Struggle Continues,


* The following books have more information on my grandfather’s scientific work:

1) Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner, Michael Elsohn Ross, 1997
(A children’s book)

2) Selected Papers and Biography of Charles Henry Turner, 1867-1923:
Pioneer of Comparative Animal Behavioral Studies,
Professor Charles Abramson, The Edward Mellon Press, 2003 (An
academic study of his life and work including a history of
the Troy-Knight-Turner Family that I wrote at the author’s request)

Next Week: Installment Two: The Keystone Cops Strike Again