Wrongful convictions and racism as human rights crises, and more thoughts on heroes

Michael in October of 2018

Michael Reed Dorrough, aka Zaharibu

By Michael Zaharibu Dorrough (written originally on 2-26-2020)

The number of people that we routinely see being released from prison as a result of wrongful convictions constitutes a human rights crisis. In most countries, if this were happening, there would be protests involving thousands of people who would be demanding change. In this country there is shameful silence.

The efforts being made to reform the criminal justice system are truly commendable. It is simply not enough. When people are convicted for crimes that they did not commit, believe me, it is not by accident. And everyone in the courtroom, the judge, prosecutor, everyone, they know what is happening.

At some point during the process/trial, something goes terribly wrong. The process stops even pretending to be fair. And everyone recognizes it. The only people who are not surprized by it are the people who know it’s coming.

Juries know that something is terribly wrong. They simply rationalize their convicting people according to their specific biases. Juries convict innocent people in spite of the massive amounts of reasonable doubt that exists. They routinely engage in nullification.

Entire communities are impacted

There is little outrage because the people who have always been crossed by it are Black, Brown, and poor. When people are placed in prison, families and entire communities are impacted by it.

Black and Latino men, in particular, are held up as the poster child for what constitutes irresponsible fatherhood, not being in their chidren’s lives, (and this is a much more complex issue than is generally discussed) but, this is as a result, in large part, of their being herded off into into these prison kamps and separated from their families and communities.

There has never been a time in the history of the United States where the Afrikan and Latino communities were considered to be a part of the American family. And made to feel welcomed by the larger society. Our being herded off into these traps is simply the way it is suppose to be. We did not create this kind of destructive thinking. We internalized it over time, normalized it, and we have passed it on from one generation to the next generation. The system is doing what it is suppost to do. What it was designed to do.

Outgrowing the prison experience

The Board of Prison Terms represents the interests of the state. And it is just as politicized as the courts, and every other branch of government. One reason why it is such a challenge for some of the guys who before the board and are denied suitability, has to do with people transforming themselves and as a result, outgrowing the prison experience.

There are scores of people in prison who have put in years of work to fix themselves. For many, that process started well before they were able to engage in the self-help programs that are now available in some of the prisons throughout the state. They are no longer the person that they were.

And when that happens there is nothing left for that person to accomplish in prison. He/she has learned the lessons, whatever those lessons are, that come with growth and maturity for that person.

Punishment must have a beginning and an end


The board also recognizes this in a person. When people are denied suitability for reasons that have nothing to do with the transformation that they have made, it is, and should be, upsetting to that person. It’s just punishment from that point on.

The board will not say this, at least in part, because punishment must have a beginning and an end, (if rehabilitation is really a/the goal) and anytime you stand the perceived need to constantly punish someone who has transformed him-/herself, up against the power of transformation, the perceived need to punish will lose. The power of transformation will outshine it everytime.


Political punishment

Political punishment is even more obvious. We have seen it express itself throughout history. And we know what it looks like. It looks like Sitawa (get well soldier. We still have some struggling to do. I love you).

It looks like the many, many, women/men who were imprisoned in the 1960s-1970s, and who are still imprisoned.

It looks like Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur. Angela Davis and Winnie Mandela. Marilyn Buck, James “Doc” Holiday.

The Board though, is doing its job. It is doing what it is designed to do. “Reforming” a system means just trying to change what the system looks like. Not its mentality and how it thinks.

There has to be a different kind of thinking – one that does not reflect the capitalist arrangement that it continues to function under. As long as we rely on new laws, the courts, the system, as it is, changes will be short lived, and they will always result in leaving people behind.

“Reforming” a system means just trying to change what the system looks like. Not its mentality and how it thinks.

We all know, without question, that people are given Death Penalty/Life Without Parole sentences, because they are Black, Brown, and poor, so why do we have capital punishment? Why would we subject people to a process that we know is anti-human (it is worse than unfair)? Again, when people are punished, we are not just punishing that person. We are punishing families, communities. The future.


People creating their own dangerous realities

There are people in this country who genuinely believe that their way of life is under attack (and they are being manipulated into believing that it is true). They believe it so passionately that they create their own realities and will argue that their reality is real.

The gun debate is one such issue. No one has said anything about taking anyone’s guns, but, the resistance to any proposed gun regulations is based on the claim that the government is trying to take everyone’s guns! People who think like this should not own guns!

Again, when people are punished, we are not just punishing that person. We are punishing families, communities. The future.

We can no longer sit by and remain silent when people say “Guns don’t kill, people do”. Guns take on the personality of the people who own and use them. If you put a gun into the hands of a racist that person is going to walk into a house of worship and slaughter people who are Black, Brown, Jewish and Muslim as they pray. A Travon Martin or Tamir Rice will be the result.

If you put a gun into the hands of a misogynist, there will be assaults on the humanity of women. If you put a gun into the hands of a homophobic, people will be shot, no, slaughtered, as they dance inside of a nightclub, simply because of who they choose to sleep with. Acts of violence are forms of hate. Guns are expressions of that hate.

The people who create this and other realities are so entrenched in this thinking that they do not care about anything except resisiting what they consider to be attacks on their way of life. And they will go to any extreme in their support of people who claim to represent their interests. They do not care that they are simply being exploited. They only care about the reality that they have created.

It is not possible to try and reason with a person or people who use as their basis of fact, a reality that they have created (in an episode of an old Seinfield series this was called the “Bizarro” world).

They are so determined to hold on to what they consider to be their country that they weaponize cars to mow down human-beings who engage in efforts in creating a just and humane society.

Stick together

If we are to honor the many, many sacrifices that have been made by those who love liberation, the best way for us to show how much we continue to be inspired by their sacrifices is to stick together! They loved liberation. So much so that they sacrificed themselves.

Anything worth loving is worth fighting for!

I would also like to thank (and this seems like such an understatement) the many people who supported me throughout a recent setback, including Heshima… I have not had many people in my life who have been friends… Asanta sana for your encouragement. Fire… I hope that one day I can repay you by contributing to creating the kind of planet that you, we, envision.

Love and Struggle, Zah

Send Bro Zaharibu some love and light:

Michael Reed Dorrough, D83611
P.O. Box 5248
Corcoran, CA 93212

Visit the website his supporters have made: Michaelreeddorrough.org

One of my favorites…

Zaharibu sent this poem along with his letter in April, and he wrote underneath: “one of my favorites.”

William Stafford: A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

Read the rest here ….